The family of murdered teacher Ann Maguire who was brutally stabbed while doing the job she loved are still struggling to believe she has been snatched from their lives.. Today, as part of our series looking at the issue of knife crime in schools, Ann’s younger sister Denise Courtney talks to AASMA DAY about how she believes education is the answer to the knife crime problem and how she knows her sister would have thought the same.
“If you spent just a few minutes in Ann’s company, you would feel like you were the most special person in the world.
“Ann was born to be a teacher and transformed so many children’s lives for the better.”
Shaking her head helplessly, Denise Courtney reveals how it is still difficult for the family to believe Ann was taken from them in such a shocking and cruel way and admits there are times when it still feels like a horrific nightmare.
It is surreal. There are times when we look back and think: ‘Has this really happened to us?’ And then the reality hits us that it has.
Denise, 52, says: “It is surreal. There are times when we look back and think: ‘Has this really happened to us?’ And then the reality hits us that it has.
“For something so horrific to have happened to your family and your sister is difficult to deal with.
“It was all just so senseless and needless and it is something you never recover from. It is beyond comprehension that something like this could happen.”
Ann Maguire, 61, who taught Spanish, was stabbed to death by 15-year-old pupil Will Cornick in front of horrified classmates at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds where she had taught for 41 years.
The shocking and unprecedented killing shocked the nation and is the only case where a teacher has been killed by a pupil in a British classroom.
Culprit Will Cornick was sentenced to life by a judge who ordered he must serve at least 20 years and warned he may never be released. He showed a complete lack of remorse for the crime and his motive was an “inexplicable and irrational hatred.” Cornick made it clear he ‘hated’ Ann after she banned him from a school trip for failing to do his homework. He exchanged messages on Facebook sharing his hatred and desire to kill her. On the morning of the murder, he showed other pupils the knife and boasted of the planned attack but they did not take his threats seriously.
Cornick stabbed Ann seven times in April 2014 with a seven-inch knife and children ran screaming from the room. Ann ran from the classroom and was pulled into an office by another teacher who she told: “He’s stabbed me in the neck. I’m dying.”
She later died of her injuries and the paramedic described her stab wounds as the worst he’d ever seen.
Closing her eyes to try and blank out the horror, Denise says: “With my sister, it just happened to be a knife that he used to kill her.
“But it could just as easily have been another weapon. In this instance, it was the most accessible thing for him. Ann’s death resulted from hatred of that individual towards my sister.
“In my view, there was only one person responsible for what happened to Ann and that was the one boy with psychopathic tendencies who did it.”
Ann, born and raised in Scholes in Wigan, Lancashire, had always wanted to be a teacher and after going to Leeds Trinity University, she settled there and got a job at Corpus Christi Catholic College where she spent her teaching career.
Smiling, Denise, who lives in Warrington, says: “Ann was a Wigan girl at heart. We all are. But she loved Yorkshire as well.
“Ann loved being a teacher and was born to be one. It was a vocation for her not a job. She absolutely loved that school and never considered moving to another school.
“This makes what happened even more tragic, senseless and incredibly sad.”
Although Denise thinks it is frightening to hear how many children are found in possession of knives and weapons in schools, she is firmly against the idea of body scanners in schools and is adamant Ann wouldn’t have wanted that either.
She believes education and awareness is the most powerful weapon.
Denise explains: “I know my sister Ann would not have wanted things like metal detectors or body scanners in schools.
“Education and teaching people was everything to Ann and I know she would think in essence it is about teaching young people what is right and what is wrong.
“In her eyes, the best way of dealing with the issue of knife crime would be talking about it and raising awareness through education - not technology such as scanners.
“I feel metal detectors and body scanners give out the wrong message. It would invoke fears in a good school.
“And metal detectors would only pick up things with metal. But there are plenty of other weapons without metal. How would you pick up something like a baseball bat for instance? Or things like acid?
“How would schools police that? It is unpoliceable. There is not a blanket solution to these problems. There is good and bad everywhere and there is not one solution that fixes all.
“But it has to be more about discussions, dialogue and education. Talk about these issues in assemblies.”
Denise says education is the key - not just to knife crime, but any other issues in schools such as bullying, threats and assaults. She says: “In Ann’s situation, the culprit talked about what he was going to do that morning but the other children clearly did not believe him and thought it was just bravado.
“People need to talk about any issues in schools such as seeing another pupil with a knife or weapon or any threat.
“There should be a forum where children can go and report these things without fear of repercussion. There should be safe places for children to go if they feel there is a threat.
“It is about educating and encouraging children to come forward with any of their concerns and raising them with an adult and not being fearful.
“If there is any doubt, report it and give the problem to an adult to make the decision on. If someone sees or hears something and nothing is done, the repercussions could be more damaging.
“Also, schools should engage with children and explore the reasons why some young people carry a knife. Why do they feel the need to arm themselves? Is it for protection, out of fear or for bravado?
“Ask the children what they want. What would make them feel safe? A lot of children are innovative. See if they can come up with a solution. I know Ann would have advocated something like this.”
Denise, whose three older sisters were teachers and works in education herself, believes it is not just down to schools and that parents and society need to play a part in increasing awareness about knife crime.
She says: “I don’t think you can put everything on schools. It is about having an all-round education programme and raising awareness. Facebook can also play a part by making sure parents can access their children’s social media.”
Ann was 12 when Denise was born and all the sisters shared a close relationship. When their other sister Eileen, a primary school teacher died of cancer at the age of 35, Ann, married to Don with two daughters, took in and brought up her two nephews.
Denise says there is not a day the family don’t think about what happened and she and older sister Shelagh talk about Ann every day. She says: “Ann was one of the kindest and most selfless people you would ever meet.
“Ann was so caring and kind and transformed so many children’s lives.
“She ran a school choir and so many people have told us they fulfilled their ambitions and dreams because of Ann particularly in the field of music. Ann made them realise their worth and their potential.”
Laughing fondly as she remembers, Denise reveals Ann had a novel way of recruiting pupils to join the school choir. She says: “Ann would recruit children to the choir by saying: ‘You can have a detention or you can join the choir.’
“Many of them said: ‘But I can’t sing!’ and then joined the choir and found they had a voice. Some went on have a career in music or joined a band all because of Ann.”
Denise says Ann taught generations of children in the area and had taught the parents and grandparents of some of her pupils. “The children loved her. She was more than a teacher. She was their friend and confidante and was always there for them.”
On her own loss, Denise simply says: “Ann was my best friend, my soulmate and my big sister. I shared everything with her and we talked all the time. I can’t believe she has gone and it was all so senseless and needless.”
Denise is sharing her views on tackling knife crime as believes society needs to unite to tackle such issues and prevent a tragedy like this happening to any other family.
“Everybody needs to be more aware of knife crime and it is up to everyone in society to tackle it and speak up if they suspect something or know someone is carrying a knife.
“Ann was killed for no reason apart from a sense of hatred from one person and she paid the price for that hatred with her life.
“I wish we could turn the clock back and that Ann was still here with us. But we can’t.
“However, if by raising awareness, we can stop just one person or one family from suffering this kind of loss, it will be worth it.”