School gave Stephen the security and stability that was missing at home. Then he leftI
The penultimate time I saw Stephen was 20 years ago, in a Year 11 English lesson. His parting shot, as he walked out early, was to say it was all "shit". The following Monday he began his final period of truancy and never returned to school.
Stephen waited to leave school as a prisoner awaits parole. Although he had arrived with a reputation for being trouble, he actually spent five years failing to live up to his reputation. School and academic success meant little to him, but he was usually well behaved and conformist. Assignments were completed on time and to the best of his ability and, generally, he was co-operative.
But there was something about Stephen that was worrying. He was a quiet, sad, child and although he had friends there was about him none of the carefree boisterousness which many of his friends had. He seldom laughed or got angry, accepting with quiet resignation whatever life threw at him.
His existence outside school was a concern to those of us who knew him and cared about him. Although well fed and clean, he often seemed careworn and preoccupied. There seemed to be no guiding adult presence in his life. His mother, it was said, was "on the game", and more than once his patient acceptance of his peers' brutish reference to this made me wince. He dealt with verbal bullies by ignoring them, and eventually his tormentors gave up. Contact from his home was rare and, during his final two years at school, he was often absent.
School, at least, offered Stephen some security and stability. But the less he came, the more he got into trouble outside; increasingly he was gaining a reputation with the police.
About five years after he left school, I saw Stephen again, on television.
It was undoubtedly him, with his tight, curly black hair and dark eyes looking straight into a building society security camera. He was holding a sawn-off shotgun.
I liked Stephen and it gave me not one shred of satisfaction to pick up the phone and give his name to the police.
The writer taught 'Stephen' in the north of England in the 1980s. Do you have reason to remember a former pupil? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah. email@example.com