How a Catholic school head teacher saved his pupils from a knifeman

A knifeman who put a school into lockdown for nearly two hours has been detained indefinitely in a secure psychiatric hospital.

Matthew Lennox entered St Joseph’s Catholic High School, in Slough, on 27th March last year, with a large knife tucked into his waistband and telling staff he had a gun. One year later, the head teacher who confronted him has spoken out for the first time.


Just after 11:00, a member of staff looking out of an office window noticed a young man walking through the school gates who looked different to the other sixth-formers.

Until that moment, it had been a normal Monday morning.

Head teacher Ciran Stapleton came in at 06:30, meeting the site managers and other staff members before pupils arrived.

Morning assemblies and classes were followed by break time, when sixth-formers came and went through the gates, using their magnetised lanyard passes.

But then, the man, in a baggy tracksuit, hat and hooded jumper, with a small bag around his chest, marched straight past reception, towards the student entrance to the school.

“He’s told me he’s got a gun,” one of the office staff told Ciran.

‘Almost rocking’

In that moment, Ciran had no fear – just a resolute determination to protect his students.

He found the man in a corridor and confronted him.

“Everything about it – about him – was wrong,” Ciran says.

“He was erratic and jumpy, almost rocking.

“If I didn’t engage him eyeball-to-eyeball at any point, he started to panic, looking around as if someone might come up behind him.”

The man, Lennox, had a knife hidden in the back waistband of his trousers and kept his hand inside the bag at his chest, which could, Ciran feared, conceal the gun.

Just yards away, science teacher Chris Robinson had been settling his Year 8 class down after break.

When 10 short, shrill rings rang around the school, Chris and his pupils wondered if it was a lockdown drill, like one they had held just a few weeks before.

Chris locked the classroom door and pulled down the blinds as his pupils hid underneath their desks.

In just a few seconds, the school went from being abuzz with the noise and movement of break to being utterly silent.

Outside Chris’s classroom door, Ciran was trying to engage with Lennox.

“I thought, the only way I’m going to get through this is to try and keep him calm before the cavalry comes,” Ciran says.

He tried to keep him talking, asking about the music and video games he liked.

But the strength of the sense of injustice he felt from previous run-ins with the police soon became clear.

“He thought that because he’d been hurt, he wanted to hurt,” Ciran says.

“It was actually a very sad situation. And really there was something very human, very vulnerable, in what we were dealing with.

“He didn’t need a punch in the face – he needed time to be listened to.”

After minutes of tense conversation, Ciran heard a muffled alarm go off inside Lennox’s bag – and spotted a red light and loose wires spilling out.

“I just thought, ‘This is it, I’m going to die,'” he says, fearing Lennox had some kind of bomb.

After a few agonising seconds, Lennox revealed it was merely an alarm to remind him to take his medication.

But he told Ciran he was ready to die – and everyone else was going to “go down” too.

Chris could hear the voices just outside his classroom door.

‘Survival instincts’

By that time, staff had been sent an email saying the incident was not just another a drill. Around the school, others were having the same realisation.

Michelle and other pupils in the sixth-form room had been assuming it was another drill – but they then caught a glimpse of police officers through a window.

“At that point, your survival instincts really kick in,” Chris says.

He moved quietly to sit with his back to the door, checking it was locked, while Lennox stood just beyond it.

Bodies thumped

Ciran was not sure anyone had been able to call the police. But 25 minutes after confronting Lennox, he heard heavy footsteps and the rustling “whisper” of high-vis jackets approaching.

Suddenly, Lennox’s chest was alive with a mass of red dots from officers’ Tasers.

He told Ciran to stand back, out of harm’s way – because “I want you to be all right”.

And the next moment, armed officers tackled Lennox “with the force of a professional rugby team”, Ciran says.

Chris felt the impact as bodies thumped against the door.

After officers had led Lennox away, Ciran was offered a glimpse of the knife , which had a blade “about the size of an A4 piece of paper”.

No-one was hurt in the incident – but Ciran has “no doubt” it was a close call.

“He was here to make a statement,” he says.

Police took their time to ensure the whole school was secure, finally lifting the lockdown after an hour and 45 minutes.

‘Really brave’

Afterwards, in his office, Ciran found pupils, parents and even a disorientated grandmother who had been in a meeting with the school as the chaos unfolded.

Last month, after finding Lennox, 25, from West Drayton, in London, unfit to plead and stand trial, a judge at Reading Crown Court gave him a hospital order with restrictions, under the Mental Health Act.

She reportedly commended the staff at St Joseph’s for their bravery.

A year on, the school is back to normal – but Chris says some pupils still worry about that day.

“A few students have struggled with it,” he says.

“They’ve been really brave – and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”