School ready for grieving pupils

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The Independent Online
Friends of Caroline Dickinson, the 13-year-old girl from Launceston, Cornwall, who was raped and murdered in a hostel on a school trip to Brittany, go back to school today for guidance and comfort from counsellors, amid calls for tighter security on such trips.

The Schools Psychological Service in Launceston has mobilised half a dozen counsellors, who will be on duty at Caroline's school, Launceston College. Auxiliary members will be standing by.

Mike Nicholls, county councillor for Launceston and chairman of the county's social services committee, said the programme of comfort and support could take six months.

"It depends on who needs counselling. It's not just the children and staff on the trip but all those involved with the school who are affected," he said.

He stressed that the counselling was not compulsory.

"We haven't been telling people to come in. Some may feel it better to talk to friends, a parish priest or their doctor."

Some may be too emotionally exhausted to make it to school today. The children were reunited with their parents late on Saturday night. They were too shattered to join a service held yesterday morning in St Mary Magdalene's church in Launceston, where the Rev Tim Newcombe spoke of the "fathomless grief" of Caroline's family.

Flags have flown at half-mast in the Cornish town since the news broke, and floral tributes have been left at the school's gates.

North Cornwall's MP, Paul Tyler, offered sympathy and added that he will be seeking to meet foreign office ministers "at the earliest opportunity" to find out more about security in the hostel in the Breton village of Pleine-Fougeres, where Caroline was raped and suffocated in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Police believe a man walked in through doors which were kept unlocked as a legal fire requirement.

Mr Tyler said: "A similar hostel in this country would have had fire doors that could only be opened from the inside."

"It may be that the adults [in charge of the children] were given the impression that similar types of security were in place at this hostel. If they had that expectation that it would be secure, maybe they were lulled into a false sense of security."

Police in France are no closer to catching Caroline's killer. They believe the man was an outsider who walked in through the unlocked hostel doors. It is unclear whether a photo-fit image of a bearded man being shown to locals is that of a suspect.