I briefed the others carefully: we will not set foot in the grounds, we will not attempt to obstruct anybody, we will remain on the public highway, we will stand at the exits and offer a card to anybody willing to take it, but not press the matter. I advised J in particular that his job was to record. Even in the unlikely event that I got roughed up, he was under no circumstances to get involved, but merely to record the entire incident.
The cards had a very simple message.
Is your child really safe at St. Benedict's?The parents' meeting started at 7.30, and we arrived in the vicinity soon after. We did a bit of a recce and worked out that the only two open exits were the vehicle exit on Marchwood Crescent and the pedestrian exit on Eaton Rise, so we agreed that I would cover Marchwood Crescent, S would cover Eaton Rise, and J would stand on the corner of the two streets with his video camera and would film in either direction as required.
Read the facts about the ISI report
There was very obvious security on the entrances both in Eaton Rise and Marchwood Crescent, and of course they soon realised that we were hanging around. Security came out to talk to S at the Eaton Rise exit. J was accosted at the bus shelter on the corner and replied monosyllabically in a deliberately thick Geordie accent - they quickly left him alone.
A security man came out and recognised me at the entrance on Marchwood Crescent, and said "Good evening Mr West, such a pity you've not been allowed in. Still, you might get a few more hits" I replied that it didn't bother me in the slightest. He went in again, and in due course, no fewer than three of them came back out to confront me. I said "Good evening gentlemen", and they replied "Good evening Mr. West"
They went on to tell me that I was not permitted on the school grounds. I replied that I was surprised that the school was so scared of me that they felt it necessary to send three people out to tell me that. They said (of course) that they weren't scared, but I think the point got made!
I said that I had no intention of entering the grounds, and that I trusted that they would do nothing to stop me from going about my lawful business on the public highway. One of them (who looked like a bruiser of a nightclub bouncer) seemed to be itching for an an opportunity to get physical, but the leader said that in that case there would be no trouble. J had by this time seen that there was a conversation going on with them standing rather close to me, and was walking up towards us to get a better shot. The leader, seeing him, said "And you can send your heavy home as well." I replied "Oh, you needn't worry about him, he just has a camera." They beetled off inside very quickly!
A bit later they came outside again, and one said to another "I want you to come and witness this - there is illegal filming going on, I'm being filmed illegally". But they didn't attempt to call the police, and we ignored them.
At about 9.45pm everyone came trooping out. I offered a card to anybody that was willing to take one. No chance of giving one to anybody coming out in a car, the security people were waving the drivers on very insistently, and I wasn't going to have them accuse me of obstructing the exit, but I managed to hand out cards 15-20 to people coming out on foot. S told me that she managed roughly the same number at Eaton Rise.
There was nobody else outside, just the three of us. No press, no TV cameras, just a parent of a former pupil and two friends. The security people seemed rather disappointed at not having more to do.