'Smashing lass' stabbed to death in class: Malcolm Pithers reports on the events leading up to a knife attack at Hall Garth comprehensive

A MAN was charged last night with the murder of a 12-year-old girl stabbed to death in front of her classmates yesterday. Stephen Wilkinson, 29, will appear before Teeside magistrates today accused of the murder of Nikki Conroy and attempted murder of Michelle Reeve and Emma Winter.

A man had walked into Hall Garth comprehensive, Middlesbrough, shortly after 9.45am yesterday wearing a balaclava and combat clothes. He was carrying two knives and what appeared to be a gun.

He made his way unchecked up two flights of stairs and burst into a maths class, where he ordered the teacher out at gunpoint and, with children screaming around him, lunged at Nikki Conroy, stabbing her through the chest. She died instantly. Two 13-year-olds, Emma Winter and Michelle Reeve, were slashed. Both were said later to be out of danger.

The man was overpowered by two teachers who ran into the classroom, alerted by the relief teacher in charge of the maths class.

One of them, Christopher Bielby, 46, deputy head teacher, said last night that when they arrived outside the classroom they noticed blood staining the white blouses of some of the girls.

'We knew then we had to act immediately before even worse things happened. We charged in. As we rushed towards him he reached across to his bag to get the pistol. Dave Eland (the teacher with him) grabbed his hand and pushed it away from the children. We shouted at the children to get out.

'After that we wrestled him to the ground and got the pistol off him . . . . We just kept sitting on him, keeping him pinned to the floor, until the police arrived.'

The school will be closed until tomorrow so that children can receive counselling. A 13-year-old boy was taken to Middlesbrough General Hospital suffering from deep shock.

Nikki Conroy was said by her headmaster, Peter Smith, to be a 'smashing lass,' who had led a very full life in the school. Last night her parents, Peter and Diane Conroy, were being comforted by friends and their 17-year-old son, John.

Mr Conroy, a British Telecom engineer, said Nikki was a 'happy young girl' who had been doing well at school. 'I do not hold the school responsible for this tragic event. How can any school be prepared for anything such as this?'

Minutes of terror, page 3

(Photograph omitted)