In the Media

Widow of headmaster sides with his killer in jail dispute

PUBLISHED August 1, 2006

THE widow of the murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence supports his killer?s fight against the Home Secretary?s decision to move him from an open jail to a closed one.
Frances Lawrence is also considering resigning from the Philip Lawrence Awards, sponsored by the Home Office, because she is losing faith in the department.

?It feels peculiar, but I am on the side of Learco Chindamo, my husband?s killer,? she said. ?I don?t really want to think of it as taking his side, but I feel that there has been an injustice and the Government has created that injustice. They shouldn?t be allowed to get away with it.?

Mrs Lawrence said that John Reid, the Home Secretary, had been cruel to transfer Chindamo in May from Ford open prison in West Sussex to Blakenhurst, a Category B jail that takes Category C prisoners, near Redditch.

Chindamo, the son of an Italian gangster and Filipino mother, was 15 when he stabbed Mr Lawrence to death outside St George?s Roman Catholic school in Maida Vale, northwest London, in 1995. He was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years without parole.

Chindamo was moved to Ford last year in preparation for his eventual release because he was no longer considered a risk to the public. But as a foreign prisoner who could be deported at the end of his sentence, Chindamo was moved back to a closed prison, along with many other foreign inmates.

The move came after the outrage at the sudden surge in foreign prisoners absconding from open jails this year.

This week Chindamo won the right to challenge the decision.

Mrs Lawrence said that she was sympathetic to Chindamo?s plight and accused the Home Office of having a ?knee-jerk reaction? to the revelations that it had failed to consider more than 1,000 foreign prisoners for deportation at the end of their sentence.

Although Mrs Lawrence felt that Chindamo?s move to an open prison should have been more gradual, she said that his rehabilitation to the outside world would be affected by his sudden move to Blakenhurst.

After Chindamo was moved to Blakenhurst she wrote to the Probation Service saying that she was worried about his mental state. She emphasised her concern that it would be ?traumatic? for him. Mrs Lawrence said that she did not receive a reply.

?Hopefully he was being helped in the open prison, but to bang him back into a closed prison was cruel. Rather bizarrely I wondered what it would do to him psychologically.

?I think the Home Office has been guilty of a knee-jerk reaction following the publicity about the missing prisoners. It?s unusual to care about him, but if anything is going to come out of this he has to be rehabilitated. I fear that his move could have hindered his rehabilitation.?

Mrs Lawrence said that she still dreaded the day that Chindamo would be released and would have preferred his minimum term in jail to have been longer. She said that she was trying to be objective and assumed that because Chindamo had been moved to an open prison it meant that his rehabilitation was making some progress. She said that his return was a ?retrograde step?.

Mrs Lawrence knew nothing about Chindamo?s court challenge until she read about it in newspapers. ?I am sad that the Home Office didn?t bother to contact me over this court hearing. The victims have human rights too,? she said. She now plans to attend the judicial review hearing. 

Mrs Lawrence said that the Home Office?s behaviour had dismayed her so much that she was considering resigning from the Philip Lawrence Awards, which reward outstanding citizenship by young people aged 11 to 20 years.

?I have a lot to do with the Home Office because of the awards. But I am thinking twice about continuing this now. I am just not sure if I have any faith in the department and it would be hypocritical to work with them. 

 ?I am trying to think of another way of doing the awards so that they don?t involve the Government.?

The Home Office gives the Philip Lawrence Awards a grant and this year provided ?130,000. The awards have given support to numerous projects tackling crime, drug abuse and racial harassment and have helped thousands of young people.

The Home Office said that prisoners had been moved from open to closed prisons over fears that inmates would be more likely to abscond if they thought that they would be deported at the end of their sentences.

The High Court?s decision to allow Chindamo to challenge Mr Reid might open the gates for about 400 other jailed foreigners seeking similar actions.

  • December 1995 Chindamo stabs Philip Lawrence to death
  • October 1996 Chindamo found guilty at Old Bailey of murder. Given a life sentence
  • November 2001 Lord Woolf, then Lord Chief Justice, rejects Chindamo?s appeal to reduce minimum term from 12 to 10 years
  • June 2005 Chindamo moved to Ford open prison, West Sussex
  • February 2006 Chindamo allowed out of Ford on day release
  • May 2006 Chindamo moved from Ford to Blakenhurst jail
  • July 2006 Chindamo wins right to challenge decision to move him
  • 2008 The earliest date Chindamo can be released