Luke's death 'unavoidable'

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Schools should monitor children suspected of self-harming and keep closer guard on knives stored in schools as part of a clampdown on classroom violence, an inquiry into the murder of teenager Luke Walmsley has recommended.

The independent review into the death of the 14-year-old exonerated staff at Birkbeck school, North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, and concluded that the "extraordinary event" could not have been prevented.

The inquiry, commissioned by the Lincolnshire area child protection committee, found a "culture of fighting" among his peers and a history of animosity led to Luke's death. It said Alan Pennell, his killer, a known self-harmer, was fuelled by peer pressure and competition when he stabbed Luke through the heart in a corridor at the school in November 2003.

The review pointed out that teachers were not told about offences committed by Pennell outside school and it criticised poor communication between the school and other agencies, including the local youth offending service and police.

A series of recommendations has now been made to tighten security at all schools.

Gary Loveridge, head of Birkbeck, said the report was "fair" but admitted that closer ties between schools and police were vital to prevent similar incidents.

"Quite often heads are left in the dark about things that happen outside school - that makes it so much harder to manage behaviour inside the school," he said.

"The fact that Alan Pennell assaulted a policeman was never reported to me, for example, and I had to find out through a third party a month later. It is clear that there should be better liaison between schools and outside agencies."

Paul Tudor, the review's author, said headteachers should log all incidents of self-harm and that computer databases should be used "proactively" by teachers to "react to patterns of problematic behaviour".

The inquiry recommended that risk assessments should be carried out to ensure all knives and sharp objects - such as those used in food technology departments - are properly accounted for, even though Pennell stabbed Luke with a blade brought into the school from home. It also said the youth offending service should warn teachers of incidents involving pupils "irrespective of whether the offence occurred in or out of school".

Jayne and Paul Walmsley, Luke's parents, said that their son was bullied constantly by Pennell and blamed failures in the system for the fact that he was not excluded before he stabbed the younger boy to death.

"I am not confident that it won't happen anywhere else," said Mrs Walmsley.

"Of course it could happen again. We have nothing in the recommendations to address that problem.

"We want to see a set of recommendations to prevent anyone from going through what we are going through. To think that some pupil could walk into school with a knife and threaten or use it on another pupil so easily - it disturbs me."

The review followed measures outlined by the Department for Education and Skills in November to tighten school security. These included giving heads power to search pupils and limits on the number of excluded children schools are forced to take.

The DfES said last year that an estimated 1 per cent of pupils - 73,000 - had carried a knife in school for offensive reasons in 2004. Twice that number were estimated to have taken a knife for self-defence.

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