'One of a kind': BBC broadcaster remembers murdered Maida Vale headteacher Philip Lawrence
- Credit: Edward Adoo
“I remember waking up and hearing the news at 9am on the radio. I couldn’t really compute what happened, it didn’t make sense.”
Edward Adoo was 16 when his headteacher was stabbed in the heart outside St George’s Catholic School in Maida Vale, as the principal tried to protect a 13-year-old pupil.
On the 25th anniversary of the killing of Philip Lawrence, a father of four, Edward, now 41, has revisited the tragic tale – and its aftermath – in a documentary for BBC Radio 4.
Interviewees such as Mr Lawrence’s widow, former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, and former Ham&High features editor Ruth Cowen, tell of what happened on December 8 1995, how Mr Lawrence is still remembered, and the legacy of the fatal stabbing for knife crime in the capital.
“Mr Lawrence was one of a kind, there wasn’t really anyone else like him at our school,” Edward told this newspaper.
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“He would come out of his office and stand outside the school gates every day to make sure pupils left safely.
“He was very compassionate and understanding. He was a maverick, one of a kind.”
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Edward, who grew up in Gospel Oak and is now a broadcaster, credits Mr Lawrence for changing the “face” and “perception” of his school, while on a personal level, inspiring his own career in the media industry.
He recalled how, after watching an episode of Neighbours, he sheepishly knocked on his principal’s door to ask if he could set up a radio a station at the school.
“I thought he would say no, it’s not going to happen,” Edward said. “But he wasn’t dismissive and he allowed me to run the station from his office with a team.
“That was the kind of headmaster he was.”
In September 1995, three months before his murder, Mr Lawrence wrote a reference recommending Edward for a job at a hospital radio station.
“That reference more or less shaped my career for life, because if I didn’t get that reference I wouldn’t be working in the media today,” he said.
“As a former pupil and as someone who helped my career, I wouldn't be where I am now without his help and guidance by giving me that opportunity.”
Edward recounted the fateful morning when he woke up to hear Howard Hughes on Capital FM relaying Mr Lawrence’s murder.
“I was tearful and emotional. I didn’t know what to make of what happened,” the presenter said.
“All I could think of was his family and all the good things he did.”
Rather than act as a landmark moment of change for knife crime, however, Edward said his headteacher and role model’s murder felt more like the beginning of something worse.
“It seems that what happened to Mr Lawrence was the start of something really,” he said.
“I didn’t know about knife crime back then, it was like a hidden world.
“We didn’t expect that kind of thing to happen in London, especially to a teacher, but it did.
“And we still haven’t come to terms with it.”
Edward believes Mr Lawrence’s legacy will live on through the diverse, ambitious environment he created at St George’s, and the staunch values he stood for.
“He didn’t want pupils to be living in an unequal society. That's what he made at St George’s, he made it an equal playing field,” Edward said.
“It wasn't about where you came from, it was about your ability and kind nature – not about your class, your wealth, your background or your ethnicity.
“I’ve learnt that over the years from his teaching, his ethos, and his gentle and kind manner.”
Closing our conversation, Edward hoped his documentary would send a positive message in memory of his inspiring headteacher.
“If you have an ability to excel in life don’t let anyone ever put you down or pursue your goals,” he said.
“Always have someone there to champion your cause. If you have that special person, you're set for life.
“I’m so glad I had that special person in Philip Lawrence.”