A number of people have asked me to elaborate on all of my recent blog references to the shooting at my school at the end of the 1980s. Seeing as nothing of any interest has happened to me today, and because the events that happened took place 25 years ago, almost to the day, I thought I’d regale readers with the full details as I remember them, and if any former “Ferrins” have other stories about the day, I’d be more than interested to hear them.
Wednesday January 6th, 1988. The Ferrers School, Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire. It was an unremarkable January day in an unremarkable corner of England. I was in the 3rd year at the time, aged, I think, 13. It was the last lesson of the day. We were studying geography, and I was very excited about seeing the local “am dram” pantomime in Rushden that night. The windows of the classrooms were covered in condensation. I’m not quite sure why I remember that particular detail. As the bell went to signify the end of school, my best friend, Tammy and I, collected our things and decided to go down to the school office to get some new notebooks.
As we walked towards the main doors of the Humanities block, two fifth formers came bursting into the building, screaming for us to get back inside; “Mr XX has been shot!” they said. They were crying and shaking, and we sat with them outside our classroom for some time, attempting to calm them down whilst simultaneously trying to work out what on earth was going on. Mr XX was a much-loved English teacher. Why would anybody shoot him? Why would anybody shoot anyone? People didn’t get shot in Northamptonshire...
“It’s Darren Fowler,” said the girls, “he’s shooting everywhere and there’s blood all over the place. He’s looking for Mr YY,” (a science teacher, whom he hated.)
Everyone knew Darren Fowler. He was one of the tragic kids at school. He was two years older than me and had a greasy bowl haircut. He used to shuffle around the school inadequately, and we all took the piss mercilessly, until we realised he had a temper on him. There were always stories of him smashing roof tiles, freaking out and attacking teachers. He lived with his Mum and a string of mini-me brothers in a terraced house on the edge of town. We were told that his next door neighbours had once complained to the council because there was damp on the wall which separated them from the Fowler’s house. The council had apparently investigated, and discovered that the Fowler family were randomly peeing against the wall in their sitting room.
Rumour had it that Fowler had guns in his shed, and teachers at the Ferrers School had sent letter after letter to the authorities warning them that Fowler was out of control and needed help. These letters reached fever-pitch, when we heard the news that Michael Ryan had walked through the streets of Hungerford in late 1987, killing scores of innocent people. I still remember my father turning to me after we saw the first news reports about the massacre and saying; “we’ve got to keep an even closer eye on Darren Fowler now.”
Fowler had been expelled from the school towards the end of 1987 and had, we gathered, come back to seek revenge.
The kids in my part of the school were all ushered out of the back of the building and led to safety via the school field. We could see Darren Fowler on the concrete ground in front of the science block, with someone sitting on his stomach, and later found out that this was our games teacher, Mr Greenhall, who’d bravely rugby tackled Fowler to the floor, after monitoring the number of cartridges he had in his gun and striking the very moment he realised Fowler would need to reload.
Ten minutes earlier, Fowler had walked calmly into the school, armed with a rifle, and immediately shot through the staff room window where teachers who weren’t busy teaching were hit by flying glass. He’d then gone around the back of the school and reloaded his rifle before shooting at two first formers who were coming out of one of the temporary class rooms. I believe both were taken to hospital, but neither suffered life-threatening injuries.
Fowler had come across Mr XX leaving another temporary classroom at the end of lessons, and that’s when he shot him, at point blank range, before heading down towards the science block where he’d started indiscriminately shooting through classroom windows... and that’s when Mr Greenhall did his heroic act.
Back at home we waited for hours for my brother (in the year above) to return. Brother Edward was taught English by Mr XX, and we were desperately trying to find a copy of his time table to see whether he might have been affected. We had no idea how many children had been shot, but rumours were already flying around that there'd been a proper massacre. A few hours later Edward arrived home, rather casually saying he didn’t really know what the fuss was all about. They’d heard the gun shots and been locked into a CDT room, which had suited him just fine because it meant he could get on with his woodwork project! It was at least an hour before they were allowed to leave the room, one assumes after the police had arrived and taken Darren Fowler away.
Mr XX was rushed to hospital, where he spent, I seem to recall, as much as a year getting better.
The following day, the authorities swept into the school and removed every last letter or document which suggested that Fowler was a danger to the school and himself. It would, of course, have been incredibly damaging for them, and we know from the Hillsborough enquiry that this was the way that things worked in those days. None of the teachers wanted to lose their jobs, and I guess no one knew their rights as much back then.
The news was reported for a single day in the tabloids – on the front pages – and then it mysteriously disappeared... Just like the school documents. Now of course we can argue that no one was killed in the attack, but back then, (before Columbine and Dunblane) this kind of thing didn’t happen. There’s a list of school shootings in Wikipedia, which include a number of events in Germany and Holland where no one was actually killed and yet the Ferrers School is never mentioned. Google "Darren Fowler" and "Ferrers School shooting", and there are no reports.
Fowler went to jail (where we’re told he stabbed a fellow inmate) and all his identikit brothers were educated at the school. It really was as though nothing had happened.
And that is the story of the Ferrers School shooting as I recall it.