Murder of Philip Lawrence

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Philip Ambrose Lawrence, QGM (21 August 1947[1] — 8 December 1995) was an Irish headmaster who was stabbed to death outside the gates of his school when he went to the aid of a pupil who was being attacked by a gang.

Biography[edit]

Lawrence was born in Dublin, the son of a retired Indian Army colonel, and brought up in County Wicklow. He attended Ampleforth College and won an exhibition to read English at Queens' College, Cambridge, being awarded his BA in 1969 and his MA in 1970.

In the 1970s, he taught English at St. Benedict's School at Ealing Abbey, a Roman Catholic independent school. On 10 February 1973, he married Frances Huntley, a fellow teacher at the school; they had three daughters and a son.

Lawrence later became the Head of English at Gunnersbury Boys' School in Brentford, Deputy Headmaster at St. Mark's R.C. School, Hounslow, and later was named Headmaster of the Dick Sheppard School, a Lambeth comprehensive school. In 1993, he was appointed headmaster of St. George's Roman Catholic School, Maida Vale, regarded as a rough school with poor exam results. He improved the academic reputation of the school, but problems with violence continued.[citation needed]

Murder[edit]

The Wo Shing Wo gang, which was mainly Filipino, aspired to be a junior version of the Triads. Twelve of the gang's members, led by 15-year-old Learco Chindamo, who was a pupil at another school and claimed to be a Triad member, went to St. George's school on 8 December 1995, to "punish" 13-year-old black student William Njoh, who had quarrelled with a Filipino pupil. Lawrence saw them attack the boy with an iron bar and went outside to remonstrate with the gang. Chindamo punched Lawrence, then stabbed him in the chest; he died in hospital that evening. Chindamo was convicted of murder at the Old Bailey in October 1996, after a unanimous decision by the jury, and jailed indefinitely (as he was a juvenile at the time). The trial judge recommended that a minimum of 12 years should be served.[2]

Chindamo had for years claimed that he was the victim of mistaken identity, and that the real killer was another boy who had borrowed his jacket, although he does not deny that he was present. During the trial it was shown that Chindamo's claim of links to Chinese Triad society was untruthful. On 10 October 1997, he lost his appeal. He was also a suspect in the non-fatal stabbing of a man named John Mills during a mugging in Camden several months before Lawrence's murder. Chindamo was born in Italy to a father from Italy and a mother from the Philippines. Chindamo and his mother moved to the UK when he was six.[3]

Aftermath[edit]

The case increased the level of concern expressed about levels of violence involving school-age youths, and the safety of pupils and staff while in school, which were beginning to become a public issue in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s.

Philip Lawrence was posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal (QGM) on 14 June 1997.[4]

The Philip Lawrence Awards were instituted by the then Home Secretary Michael Howard in Lawrence's honour, and were first presented on 15 March 1997. They honour outstanding achievement by young people aged between 11 and 20. Lawrence's widow Frances was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to charity for her role in setting up the award.[5]

Chindamo deportation controversy[edit]

In August 2007, an Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled that Chindamo could not be deported to his home country of Italy on completion of his prison sentence.[6] This decision was widely misunderstood as being primarily based in human rights law.[7][unreliable source?] In fact, there were two grounds for it.

EU Law: First, he had resided in the UK for 19 years (having lived in England since age 6). Whilst 10 of those years did not count as he was in jail, the 9 remaining years were a sufficiently long time to make him a 'permanent resident' under EU law. As such, only 'serious grounds of...public security' could justify his expulsion.[8] The tribunal disagreed with the Home Office's argument that this threshold was reached in Chindamo's case, so deportation was unlawful.

Human rights law: Second, the tribunal found that even if the EU law argument had failed, he would have a right to stay under human rights law. In the exceptional circumstances of his having lived in England since age 6, an Article 8 right to "family life" was found in relation to his mother and siblings.[7]

Criticism: The decision was severely criticised by Frances Lawrence, widow of the murdered headteacher Philip Lawrence.[2] David Cameron, as leader of the opposition, argued that the case showed the Human Rights Act 1998 'has to go' and be replaced by a "British Bill of Rights".[9]

Release[edit]

In July 2010, after a parole board recommended his release, Chindamo made a statement saying "I did a terrible thing when I killed Mr Lawrence... I have been rightly punished and I have always understood that I should not be released until I had changed and was no longer dangerous... I know that some people will not be able to accept that I have changed or that I should be allowed my freedom. I also know that I will spend the rest of my life atoning for my crime, and mean to do so by living quietly and decently."[10] He was freed in July 2010. On 24 November 2010 Chindamo was arrested in Catford and detained by police for questioning in connection with a mugging. He is alleged to have threatened to kill a man before robbing him of a wallet and mobile phone in Camden.[11] As a result of his arrest and remand in custody Chindamo was recalled to custody under the terms of the life license which comes with his original life sentence. On 24 August 2011, Chindamo and his two co-defendants were acquitted of robbery. He remained in custody under the terms of his life license as he was adjudged to present a risk. On 2 May 2014 the Parole Board announced its approval of Chindamo's re-release from custody.[12]

Footnotes[edit]

External links[edit]