The School Canoe Tragedy: Tragedy leaves school in shock: Spring flowers express pupils' grief for lost classmates

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The Independent Online
THE MOOD at Southway Comprehensive School in Plymouth was bleak as weeping parents and children walked through the car park throughout the day carrying bunches of spring flowers.

By late afternoon 60 bouquets had accumulated on the school steps. A bunch of red carnations had a note attached: 'To Simon, Claire, Dean and Rachel. You'll always be remembered'. Another message with a bunch of pink tulips read: 'To all of you although we never knew you well. You are in our memories'. Faxes of sympathy also arrived from nearby schools.

Staff at the comprehensive were hoping to get lessons back to normal today. Yesterday one pupil said they had been warned not to talk to the press. As they left the building at 3pm, two policemen escorted them to school buses. Many were crying, while others stood in huddled groups comforting each other.

Simon Reeves, 12, who knew Dean Sayer, said: 'The whole school was in tears this morning. The accident was shocking. I don't know why it had to happen to us.'

John Wright, Devon County Council's deputy chief education officer, said the leader of the party, John Ellis, had spent a weekend at the centre a year ago examining facilities and taking part in activities. He had been satisfied with the set-up. He said Mr Ellis, who is now at home in Plymouth, 'was a man of much experience who had been leading parties of this kind for many years. He is a man in whom everyone in the school and the educational community has the utmost confidence.' Three pupils, Joanne Willis, Samantha Stansby and Maria Rendle were last night 'stable and comfortable' in Weymouth hospital while Emma Hartley, 16, was said to be critical but improving. The remaining pupils who went on the trip are now back at home.

Mr Wright told a press conference: 'It is the centre itself which is responsible for the young people. It is, however, not uncommon for young people of sixth-form age to go out unaccompanied by staff.

'The school has a duty of care in making sure the centre is appropriate. It went further by making sure two members of staff were present.'

Dennis Camp, chairman of the school governors, said: 'We are all totally devastated. But this is a community and we will all be able to pull through together and give as much help as we can to whoever needs it.'

(Photograph omitted)

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