Ten years on, school cuts ties with widow of murdered headteacher

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The Independent Online

The widow of Philip Lawrence, the headmaster who was stabbed to death by a 15-year-old as he went to the rescue of a pupil being attacked outside his school gates, wants some good to emerge from the tragedy.

To that end, she is presenting awards on Tuesday in his memory to celebrate the achievements of youngsters who have chosen the path of community work rather than being tempted into a life of crime like his killer.

However, she is worried that this will inevitably lead to her being portrayed as a victim again.

To many people, 8 December is more likely to be remembered as the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Philip Lawrence was a great fan of the former Beatle - an irony which is not missed by Mrs Lawrence, who still lives in the house in Ealing, west London, she shared with her husband.

In contrast to her approach to the anniversary, though, his former school - St George's Roman Catholic comprehensive in Maida Vale, Westminster - is just hoping it will go away.

It has cut ties with Mrs Lawrence to draw a veil over the past and will not be staging any commemoration of his life's work next Thursday.

"No, I'm not in touch," said Mrs Lawrence. "I would very much have liked to have been in touch with the school. They seemed to decide at one point, though, that it was time to erase the past. I can understand that decision although I do find it a bit odd."

Dame Marie Stubbs, the headteacher brought out of retirement to turn the school round after it had failed its inspection by Ofsted - the education standards watchdog - a few years after Philip Lawrence's death, also believes the school should seize the occasion to show how far it now lives up to the ideals that he would have set for it.

It received a glowing inspection report when her successor, Philip Jakszta, built on her reforms to improve standards. Now, though, it has an acting head as it could not appoint a full-time one to replace Mr Jakszta.

Dame Marie, portrayed in the ITV film Ahead of the Class starring Julie Walters, believes that the school "should seize on what has been achieved - to give a positive image of what has happened at the school". Mrs Lawrence is adamant that she will not dwell on the school's decision. Instead, when she is not devoting time to her teaching career (she is still an English teacher), she focuses on preparing for the awards. "When Philip died, I suddenly found that the entire world and news and media were taken up with an obsession with gang culture," she said.

"Philip would have been the first person to have been horrified by it. I didn't want his death to be the occasion of so much negative publicity against young people. It is only a very small minority that engage in that kind of activity."

Just two days before his death Philip Lawrence held an assembly at his school, stressing to all pupils they could achieve greatness. It is the motto of the awards ceremony which, in its nine years, has given recognition to groups like the Kosovans in Barrow - a group of young refugees in Cumbria who sought better integration with the local community, and a skateboarding project in Camden, north London, which sought to stop youngsters from using car-parks in shopping centres, intimidating shoppers, and built a park for them to use.

Mrs Lawrence said: "I don't feel like I'm the person that's being written about when it describes my work with the awards - a victim. I'm still the same person I was. I've long had a passion for human rights and social justice. I'm a political animal."

She recalls how - when she was a young girl - she would write countless letters to presidents of the United States criticising them for their treatment of black people. She shows her compassionate side in her reaction to the news that Learco Chindamo, her husband's killer, is in an open prison being prepared for eventual release.

"I'm not a vengeful person, I think," she said. "I do understand that Chindamo needs to be prepared for a fulfilling life outside." As to the future, Mrs Lawrence - whose four children have now all left home - will still be dedicating a large part of her life to the awards. They are to be extended for next year to recognise the work young people are doing for overseas charities.

She and Philip's former school will go their separate ways. Its future is in doubt now as a result of the proposal to make it one of Tony Blair's 200 privately sponsored academies, which would mean the closure of the present school. Mrs Lawrence said: "It doesn't matter what it is called so long as the pupils are having a happy life."

It will, however, mean the severing of any remaining link with Philip Lawrence, the man who turned it round for the first time.