End-of-term prayers and tears for stab victim: Malcolm Pithers describes the sombre mood as pupils return to Hall Garth school

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The Independent Online
What should have been a joyous last day of term was full of prayers, poems, flowers and tears. Pupils who a few days earlier had stood screaming in shock as their classmates were stabbed, met again in a special assembly at Hall Garth comprehensive school in Middlesbrough yesterday to help them through their grief.

It was the first time that the children who were directly involved in the attack had stood together and spoken about the killing of Nikki Conroy during a mathematics lesson.

She was stabbed to death in front of them in their classroom on Monday morning. Yesterday as an inquest was opened and adjourned into 12- year-old Nikki's death, the whole school turned their last day of term into an outpouring of collective grief.

Peter Smith, the head, said: 'There were a lot of tears in there and a lot of people needing to talk and lean on each other. There are a lot of people needing support and being given it. We have all had our moments this morning, myself included.'

He added that over the next weeks and possibly months pupils, staff and parents will need to give each other mutual support.

The school, which has just under 1,200 pupils held four separate assemblies so that staff and children could say special prayers for Nikki.

Chris Bielby, 46, the school's deputy head, and his colleague David Eland, who disarmed Nikki's attacker, prayed with the pupils and then consoled those who had witnessed her killing. Emma Winter and Michelle Reeve, both 13, who were both injured in the attack, attended the assembly, despite their ordeal.

The two girls were given words of comfort by the Prince of Wales, who made a brief stop at the school during a visit to Cleveland yesterday. He spoke to pupils and school staff about Monday's tragedy.

Nikki's parents, Peter and Diane Conroy, yesterday spoke of their 'happy little girl' whom they loved 'desperately'. Mr Conroy, 43, also told how he had had breakfast with his daughter for the first time in years on Monday morning. He had taken redundancy from his job as a British Telecom engineer and had happily waved Nikki off to school just hours before her death.

But he told how this happiness was shattered when police arrived at the family home in Acklam to say there had been accident at the school and Nikki was involved. 'I asked if she was all right and they just said 'No',' said he said. 'Then it was just absolute shock. I just did not think the police were here for anything important.'

Mr Conroy had to break the news of the tragedy first to his wife and then to their 17-year- old son, John. However, the couple say they do not blame the school.

Mrs Conroy said: 'Now I am just worried about Nikki's friends at school. I said to all of them that they could come round here at any time. They must not stop. They were never stopped before when she was here and they certainly would not be stopped now.'