The family of murdered Wigan 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.
“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, Ann’s younger sister Denise Courtney reveals how it is still difficult for the family to believe that Ann was taken from them in such a shocking and cruel way and she admits there are times when it still feels like an horrific nightmare.
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 her 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 in which a teacher has been killed by a pupil in a British classroom.
The 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.
Cornick showed a complete lack of remorse for the crime and his motive was an “inexplicable and irrational hatred” of Ann who was simply carrying out her duty as a teacher.
The court case heard how Cornick had 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 this loathing of the teacher and his desire to kill her, and 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.”
Ann 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, who was born and raised in Scholes, had always wanted to be a teacher and after going to Leeds Trinity University, she settled down 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.
Denise 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. Not just to do with knives but bullying, threats, anything.
“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? Also, 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 who works in education herself, also believes it is not just down to the schools and that parents and society as a whole need to play a part in increasing awareness about knife crime and other issues.
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 Denise says 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 took in and brought up her two nephews.
Ann loved learning Spanish at school and was inspired by her own Spanish teacher to become a teacher herself.
Denise says there is not a day that the family don’t think about what happened and she and her older sister Shelagh talk about Ann every day. Another Christmas and New Year without Ann was very difficult for the family.
Denise says: “Ann was one of the kindest and most selfless people you would ever meet.
“Just a few minutes in her company and you would feel like you were the most special person in the world.
“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.”