On 28 April 2014, Will Cornick, a 15-year-old student at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds, England, walked calmly up to his teacher in the middle of class with an 8-inch kitchen knife in his hand. Approaching 61-year-old Ann Maguire while her back was turned, Cornick stabbed her seven times in the back and neck with enough force to shatter her ribs, puncture her lung and sever her jugular vein.
In an attack described as “relentless, brutal and cowardly,” Will Cornick continued to try and stab Ann Maguire as she fled out of the classroom desperately trying to reach safety.
He followed her, only being stopped when another teacher locked herself and Ann in a workroom preventing Cornick from getting in. While Cornick returned to his desk announcing, “pity she didn’t die,” to his horrified classmates who had witnessed the entire incident, Ann Maguire knew she was dying and was being comforted by her colleague before emergency services reached her. Ann Maguire died in hospital one hour after the attack.
“I know the victim’s family will be upset but I don’t care. In my eyes, everything I’ve done is fine and dandy.” – Will Cornick
A Hatred For His Teacher
Will Cornick was a normal bubbly active teenager who came from a stable and loving family. He was well liked in school and had done well in his school work achieving a number of his GCSE’s a year early, but in the year leading up to this fatal assault on his teacher, Will Cornick had begun to display hints that all was not as it seemed with this young boy.
Diagnosed aged 12 with diabetes, Cornick discovered in 2013 that his condition would prevent him from joining the Army after he left school. Understandably disappointed and frustrated, Cornick became unsettled. Towards the end of that year, a dark fixation on his Spanish teacher Ann Maguire began to emerge.
In December 2013, Cornick told friends on social media that he hated Ann Maguire and talked of killing her. Two months before the murder in February 2014, Ann Maguire banned him from attending a school trip as he had not completed his homework. This caused tension from Cornick who attended the trip anyway in defiance. At a disciplinary meeting as a result of his behaviour, he stormed out with a disrespectful attitude and clear issues of anger towards Ann Maguire herself, issues that seemed out of proportion and unfounded. Soon after he posted a message to a friend on Facebook saying she deserved “more than death”, a message his friend laughed off and didn’t take seriously.
Will Cornick continued to make comments to friends about killing not only Ann Maguire but another teacher at the school. He talked of taking life in a flippant way and spoke of stabbing a pregnant teacher in the stomach to ensue he harmed her unborn baby. As with the comments on his social media pages, as dark as they were, no one really believed what he was saying, blaming teenage emotion and outbursts. The truth, however, was that Will Cornick was planning to kill and take his fantasies of killing his teacher and others out of his imagination and into real life.
On the morning of the murder, Will Cornick came into school with two knives in his backpack along with a bottle of Jack Daniels whisky which he told psychiatrists was to ‘celebrate’ after he had committed murder. He told friends of his plans, boasting of the knives he had with him. “I thought it was just his idea of a sick joke.” one friend said.
“I knew what I was going to do; it was what I did. …What I have done, I couldn’t give a shit…I wasn’t in shock, I was happy. I had a sense of pride. I still do…. Past generations of life, killing is a route of survival. It’s kill or be killed. I did not have a choice. It was kill her or suicide.”
After his arrest, Cornick underwent a number of psychiatric assessments in an attempt to establish his state of mind and get an insight into what caused this outwardly normal and happy teen to commit such a horrific act.
All experts agreed that while Cornick did not appear to suffer from a mental illness he did have extreme anger which he was able to keep hidden, a trait implying he could be a very dangerous individual. “He had a very high disposition to experience anger without specific provocation and his ability to manage his angry thoughts constructively was limited.” one report from an adolescent clinical psychologist said.
Another described his anger as “premeditated and predatory”, commenting that Cornick’s actions leading up to the murder were “pre-planned, goal directed, and in full knowledge that they were wrong.” A further report from a psychiatric expert noted, “a gross lack of empathy for his victim and a degree of callousness rarely seen in clinical practice.”
15-year-old Will Cornick was not all he seemed to be. While his outward behaviour in the days leading up to his attack on Ann Maguire was entirely normal to everyone around him, he was, in fact, planning the brutal murder of his teacher and was excited at the prospect. He had developed an irrational and groundless anger at Ann Maguire and he was determined to do her harm as a result. From what the psychiatrists had seen with this young boy, they were unable to rule out that he would not kill again.
Will Cornick pleaded guilty to the charges against him removing the requirement for a trial to take place. For a juvenile offender convicted of murder, the minimum sentence in the UK is 12 years in prison. However, this sentence was increased in the case of Will Cornick due to the fact the murder was pre-meditated and committed in public in front of other children. Furthermore, the horrific death he put his victim through and the impact and trauma this had on those who witnessed the murder were also felt to be factors that must be taken into account when deciding how long he should spend in prison for his crime.
On 3 November 2014, Cornick by now 16-years-old was jailed for life with a minimum of 20 years at Leeds Crown Court. He was told at his sentencing that serving this minimum sentence will not mean he will then be released from prison and in his case the judge felt, “it is quite possible that that day will never come.”
A year later Will Cornick appealed his sentence but his lack of remorse and proud attitude towards his crime could not be overlooked and his appeal to have his sentence reduced was rejected.
The murder of Ann Maguire was the first case of a teacher being murdered by a pupil in a UK school. Ann Maguire’s family have been especially keen to ensure such a violent and tragic incident does not happen again and make sure the full facts of this case are known. A Learning Lessons’ Review of the case was carried out by the Leeds Safeguarding Children Board in 2016, an independent review which concluded that “no one could have predicted or pre-empted Will Cornick’s attack on Ann Maguire”.
In the report comments made by Will Cornick about the attack are noted. He spoke of a ‘red mist’ that came over him in the moments before the murder and that he had wanted someone to stop him carrying out the attack. These are comments that were made as part of interviews with the independent reviewer after he had been convicted and sentenced and are not comments which featured in any earlier interviews either with police, the youth offending service or experts in the days after the murder.
It is a report that many feel is incomplete and not as thorough as it should have been. A full inquest is due to take place in the case of Will Cornick and Ann Maguire’s murder at the end of this year.
For many, the most shocking and troubling aspect in this case was the lack of remorse shown by Will Cornick. This was not a troubled young lad who snapped in an explosion of violence, it was a calculated and planned attack which seemed to give Cornick a sense of satisfaction when he had completed his task. As highlighted by the sentencing judge in Will Cornick’s last court appearance, “In my view, these remarks – your pride in what you did, and your complete lack of remorse – are truly grotesque.”
Listen to the chilling case of 14-year-old Philip Chism who raped and murdered his math teacher Colleen E. Ritzer at Danvers High School in Massachusetts in 2013, in a 2-part special of the Sword & Scale Podcast.