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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 10:50 GMT
'I couldn't sleep all night'
Frances Lawrence and her son
The gravity of such crime should not be forgotten, says Frances Lawrence
News the murderer of Philip Lawrence was let out of jail on day release this weekend was shock enough for the head teacher's widow, Frances.

But, as Victim Support calls for better treatment of those whose relatives have been killed, she tells the BBC that the fact that the authorities did not inform her and she learned of it from a newspaper, only added to her trauma.

"I was totally, I suppose, traumatised. That probably sounds like far too strong a word, but it did feel like it at the time," she told Radio 4's Today programme.

Learco Chindamo was 16 when he stabbed Philip Lawrence to death as he tried to protect a pupil outside his school in Maida Vale, north-west London, in 1995.

Chindamo had led a gang of youths to St George's Roman Catholic school to attack a boy who had quarrelled with another pupil.

Now 25, he was given a life sentence in 1996 and told he would have to serve at least 12 years in prison.

'Very soon'

"I think the simple human expectation is that if someone is in prison for the most brutal type of crimes, then they stay in prison until very near the end of their sentence," said Mrs Lawrence.

"Since the story broke, I have had numerous people contacting me, saying very much the same.

"I am a great believer in rehabilitation. That's what I want for Chindamo, but it seems very soon.

"Also, it was the shock that he had gone, unescorted with his brother, along a motorway up to London.

"As I say, the expectation is that you don't go on a jaunt. So it was a great shock."

Philip Lawrence
Philip Lawrence was punched and stabbed by Chindamo

Asked if she would have known her husband's killer if she had come across him in the street, she said: "I think I probably would."

This, she agreed, was a "shocking thought".

"I was told by e-mail the night before that there was going to be a story in the press. I came home from work and looked at e-mails and that was a shock to me. I couldn't sleep all night.

"But there were no details.

"I should say that the probation officer, with whom I have been dealing with, has been very kind. But I get the sense that his hands are tied.

"And he talks to me about generalities, the principle of rehabilitation."

She said if this happened again, she would like to be informed by the authorities.

It seems to me that all people involved ought to get together for a real debate
Frances Lawrence

"If the story hadn't broken in the Sun, then I wouldn't have known at all," she said. "That is extraordinary.

"Although I knew that all this was some time in the future, he was going to have day release, then unsupervised releases, but I hadn't realised the extent.

'Sense of powerlessness'

"I could not have been helped more by our family liaison officer, who was wonderful. "When we were floundering, he couldn't have done more. Way beyond the call of duty."

She said it was a system that certainly worked in her case, "but I do know of other cases where it hasn't".

On the question of whether the Home Office should inform families routinely when offenders are released, she said: "Of course, I know it is not a simple thing.

"And I don't blame one party. It seems to me that all people involved ought to get together for a real debate on the best way forward in this, because there is so much unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

"When something awful happens, you get as well as the grieving, this great sense of powerlessness, in a sense that the state takes over. It becomes a prosecutor, it punishes.

"And you can be very powerless at that point. And you need to know that that justice is working in the interests of the victim."

She agreed that although the murder took place a decade ago and sentence was passed on her husband's killer in 1996, for her it was "there" every day.

"I feel that we should never water down the gravity of an offence just because of the passing of time. We should always keep that at the forefront," she said.

Frances Lawrence on the treatment of victims of crime


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