Politicians of all parties joined with churchmen, governors, parents and pupils in expressing horror at the casually brutal killing of 48-year- old Mr Lawrence, married with four children. He had brought an admired disciplinary regime to St George's Roman Catholic comprehensive in Maida Vale, north London; but some pupils suggested yesterday that tensions between children at the racially mixed school led to his death.
As Mr Lawrence's widow Frances and her children were comforted at their home in Ealing, west London, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said she would be considering the case "urgently" with the local education authority and diocesan representatives.
She faces a barrage of demands to take decisive action.The Labour home affairs spokesman, Jack Straw, called for a review of school security and an overhaul of the youth justice system. He said schools should have more closed-circuit television cameras and better advice on security staffing, and the police needed more powers to combat truancy and the carrying of knives.
Mr Lawrence died after he rushed to help one of his pupils, 15-year- old William Njoh, who was being attacked by a gang of youths outside the St George's gates. William himself received head injuries in the attack, reportedly with a machete. He was discharged yesterday from St Mary's Hospital after treatment, but at his home in Bayswater, west London, his mother Sophia said he was still too ill to talk about it.
Mr Lawrence, a popular head who had greatly raised standards at St George's since he took over two years ago, received a single stab wound to the chest. He died 10 hours later despite desperate efforts by surgeons.
In an interview with a local newspaper publisher last week, the headmaster said he had expelled more than 60 pupils over the past three years, "which has given me the dubious honour of holding the current record for the largest number of expulsions by any headteacher in Britain". His policy was popular with parents, he said, adding that he was giving children Christian values. "We believe that there is a difference between right and wrong ... There is a forgiveness, but there is wrong."
Pupils and parents delivered flowers to the school gates yesterday. One card read: "We will miss Mr Lawrence dearly. He was the best headmaster anyone could wish for."
Police have interviewed more than 100 children at the school and last night detectives were concentrating their inquiries on rival youth gangs in the area. A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard said: "There have been no arrests yet. We do not have full descriptions of the gang."
One girl pupil said: "A couple of days ago there was a fight between a black kid called William Njoh and another boy who looks as though he is Chinese. Yesterday the other boy went and got his friends, who don't go to this school. They were waiting for William when he came out.
"I saw five or six boys and they were chasing after William. Mr Lawrence was trying to help him, and one boy punched him and kicked him and then somebody stabbed him. Mr Lawrence lifted up his blazer and I could see his blood, and he collapsed.
"The boys who attacked William were probably about 14 to 16. They were Filipino-looking and there was a mixed-race boy. They were wearing scarves and bandannas, hoods and hats."
Calls for action flooded in from politicians and teachers' union representatives yesterday. Sir Rhodes Boyson, Tory MP for Brent North and a former headmaster, said Parliament should consider lowering the age of criminal responsibility, possibly to five years old, and said that security guards might soon be needed in inner-city schools.
Mr Straw demanded the streamlining of the youth justice system, which can take 19 weeks to deal with offenders after arrest.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, led the many tributes to Mr Lawrence yesterday. "He died looking after his pupils and I think his actions were typical of a dedicated schoolteacher, an exceptional head, who did a tremendous job for a school which needed turning round."
Further report, page 2Reuse content