Knife curbs to follow head's killing

Review of school security ordered but police fail to find stabbing gang
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The Independent Online
Tougher sentences for carrying knifes in public may be introduced by the Government in the wake of the shock and anger caused by the murder of Philip Lawrence, the headmaster stabbed outside his school.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said yesterday he would not change the law as a "knee-jerk reaction to one event, however dreadful", but that he was consulting the police and "if we think there is advantage in stiffening the law, that is something we will do".

Security at schools will dominate a meeting today between headteachers and Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The talks had been scheduled to discuss school discipline and dealing with disruptive pupils.

Despite the fact that there were many witnesses to the stabbing outside St George's Roman Catholic School, in Maida Vale, north-west London, on Friday, police have yet to make any arrests in connection with the killing of Mr Lawrence, 48, who was stabbed as he tried to prevent a gang attacking William Njoh, 13.

Pupils at St George's say that William had had a fight with another pupil two days previously and that this led to the attack by a gang calling itself the SW Triads, made up of youths of Far Eastern origin.

A police source said that detectives were waiting for information from sources inside the street gangs that are growing in number in London, some of which model themselves on the Chinese Triad gangs.

The shock caused by the murder of Mr Lawrence, a father of four and a popular headmaster who had radically improved standards at the school in the past two years, was evident everywhere in the Maida Vale area yesterday.

More than 100 floral tributes have been left at the school gates, many bearing poignant messages from pupils, parents, neighbours and former pupils. Children and staff at the school are to be offered counselling to help them cope with the shock.

After a meeting of the governors yesterday, Peter Clare, the chairman, said: "This tragedy has affected us as it would a family." The school will reopen today with a special mass to be held in memory of Mr Lawrence.

Prayers were said yesterday for Mr Lawrence at the Church of the Sacred Heart, in Kilburn, where many of his pupils' families are worshippers. In his sermon Father Denis Cormican compared the headmaster to John the Baptist as someone killed for carrying out his Christian duty.

One parent said afterwards: "We are not frightened because we haven't had the time yet. We are still in shock that murder has happened on the front steps of the place where our children are educated."

Relatives and friends joined Mr Lawrence's widow, Frances, and their three daughters and son for a special mass at their home in Ealing, west London.

Mrs Lawrence was too upset to discuss her husband's death but has said that she wants to celebrate Christmas as normally as possible. Father Charis Piccolomini, a governor at St George's, said that after he died she told her children: "The first thing we will do when we get home is do what daddy would have done tonight."

Mr Lawrence's death united the Government and the Labour Party yesterday, both promising to look at strengthening the penalties for carrying knives. At the moment possessing an unlawful weapon carries a maximum of two years' imprisonment, and carrying an offensive weapon is punishable by a fine of up to pounds 1,000.

Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said: "This is a desperate tragedy. The carrying of knives on the streets is extremely worrying. Labour will co-operate with the Government on getting new legislation through."

John Sutton, leader of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the promise of stronger laws against carrying knives. He said: "What cost him his life was that the thugs he encountered were carrying knives and prepared to use them. I am very pleased that politicians are thinking about what can be done to deal with that."

Mrs Shephard, who will meet headteachers' leaders today, said: "What has shocked people is the way it has shown just how vulnerable teachers are in some circumstances."

Triads on the streets, page 3

Leading article, page 14

Lesson in death, page 15

Son's poignant letter to Santa

This is the letter written by Lucien Lawrence, the murdered headmaster's eight-year-old son, which was released by Scotland Yard yesterday:

Dear Father Christmas,

I hope you are well and not too cold.

I hope you won't think I am being a nuisance but I have changed my mind as to what I want for Christmas.

I wanted to have a telescope but I now want to have my daddy back because without my daddy to help I will not be able to see the stars anyway.

I am the only boy in the family now but I am not very big and I need my daddy to help me stop my mummy and sisters from crying.

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