Wil Cornick was a fifteen year old from England who would murder his Spanish teacher in class. According to court documents Will Cornick was upset that his Spanish teacher Ann McGuire attempted to ban him from a school trip due to not completing his homework. Eventually this teen killer would be allowed to go on the trip but he held onto the grudge he had for the teacher. On the day of the murder Will Cornick brought a large knife to school and into the classroom. In the middle of the lesson the teen killer would stand up from his desk and walk over to the teacher who he proceeded to stab to death in front of his classmates. This psychopath would be sentence to life in prison however he is eligible for release after twenty years.
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Will Cornick will be one of 1,183 people under 18 in custody, according to the most recent figures, and because of the nature of his crime, one of the most notorious. Like Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the child killers of Jamie Bulger, he was named by the trial judge after being found guilty of murder.
The 16-year-old, who pleaded guilty on Monday to the murder of teacher Ann Maguire, will almost certainly begin his minimum 20-year sentence in a specialist unit of a young offender institution (YOI).
After his arrest he was held at the Keppel high dependency unit at Wetherby YOI, a few miles from Leeds crown court, but when concerns were raised for his safety there he was transferred to Hindley YOI near Wigan.
He has almost certainly been held in that jail’s Willow unit, which specialises in the care of children with complex psychological needs. But Hindley is set to close, which will provide the prison service with a problem. The Keppel unit is the only other specialist centre in England and Wales, so he may have to return there.
The self-contained Keppel unit, which is run on therapeutic lines, is separate from the main prison and is home to around 40 boys, aged between 16 and 18, described as being capable of extreme violence both to themselves and others. There are currently 16 children under 18 serving life sentences for murder, and some are believed to be at the Keppel unit.
Cornick will probably remain there until his 18th birthday, when he will moved to one of the YOIs designated for 18-21-year-olds – in all probability either Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, or Swinfen Hall, in Staffordshire. After that he will moved to an adult jail. In terms of the quality of life inside, it will be a downhill journey from 18 onwards.
There is another possible route through custody for Cornick. Even though the court considered him fit to plead, it is understood he is still undergoing psychiatric assessment.
The threshold for determining mental health is lower for young people than for adults, so there is a chance he will serve his sentence in a secure hospital rather than in a jail. However, he could not be transferred to hospitals such as Rampton or Broadmoor before he is 18.
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Even within the tiny file marked ‘schoolboy killers’, Will Cornick is an oddity. He came from an apparently loving home, he was intelligent and an academic achiever, and not subject to the detailed scrutiny of social services because of years of teenage run-ins with the authorities. He had no criminal record.
How he came to murder Ann Maguire – a popular teacher at his school, against whom he held a murderous grudge – remains a mystery to his family and those closest to him.
What to do with the 16-year-old murderer will now exercise social workers and the prisons system for at least the next 20 years. He might never be released from jail and his prospects, should he ever be – based on the evidence of past cases – could be grim.
The naming of Cornick, and the length of sentence that he received, was criticised yesterday by campaigners for youth offenders who said they would see him detained for decades in a system ill-suited for rehabilitation.
“I don’t think a child – and he was a child – should get a life sentence because they are young, their brain is not mature and a life sentence is indeterminate, it could last forever. I think no other western European country would impose a life sentence on a teenager,” said Penelope Gibbs, who chairs the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ), an umbrella group of charities and campaign groups.
“Do we want him to be rehabilitated? Do we want him to leave prison with the lowest risk possible of causing more harm to others? Yes. How long do we need to achieve that, rather than how long do we need to punish him for? We do need to punish him but I think to punish him for longer than he’s been alive for is disproportionate.”
He will be one of just 16 other children in custody for murder in a detention system that houses more children – more than 1,400 in the UK according to 2012 figures – than any European nation other than Turkey. Britain is considered to have one of the most punitive systems for children in Europe with the lowest ages of criminal responsibility of ten in England and Wales, and eight in Scotland.
Only Switzerland has a comparable age of responsibility, according to a study by the Council of Europe. Even so, the number of young offenders has been slashed from more than 3,000 six years ago after a change in police targets culture that saw teens picked up as a matter of routine for minor offences to boost clear-up rates.
Cornick could now be detained in a secure children’s home, which tend to be for the most troubled and damaged youngsters. The home was the initial destination for the two 10-year-old boys convicted of murdering James Bulger on Merseyside in 1993.
Alternatively, he could go to a specialist unit at a young offender’s institute – such as the Keppel Unit at Wetherby prison that was described in a prison inspector’s report as a model for the treatment of young offenders. It holds about 48 children aged 15-18 who were some of the “most challenging and vulnerable” people in the country but is the only one of its kind in the country.
It is clear that any attempt to rehabilitate him will be a monumental task. After the attack, he told psychiatrists he “could not give a shit” about the grief of his victim’s family. “In my eyes, everything I’ve done is fine and dandy,” he told experts.
He is unlikely to get the academic stimulation of his previous studies. Cornick could be taught in a class of around eight people with a focus on basic literacy, numeracy and vocational skills to get a job when they were finally released. He took and passed five GCSEs a year early, but he will be unlikely to be able to study for higher level qualifications now.
Harry Fletcher, a criminal justice expert and director of the anti-online abuse charity Digital Trust, said: “I think that the judge really had no choice but to give him a lengthy sentence, because the possibility of him voluntarily taking part in any rehabilitation processes at the moment is really rather slim.
“He’s been on remand for quite some time and all the people who work with him say he hasn’t shown any remorse at all. Given the sentencing guidelines, the judge’s hands were fairly tied.
“The notion that he might never get out I was surprised about, because who knows what he’ll be like in 20 years? He may have come to terms with it, be grief-stricken – we just don’t know. But it is going to be extremely difficult to manage him, given that he is saying it was justified. It’s possible that he will develop a full-blown personality disorder, which will mean rehabilitation is extremely difficult if not impossible.
He added: “On the other hand, he might be working with therapists, psychologist and psychiatrists with whom he can bond, and that improvements are made. But pre-meditated killing at 15 – you don’t want to damn him now as having no hope, but the prospects aren’t brilliant.”
Children involved in the most grave of crimes have tended to be highly damaged individuals, with a long history within the care system and underlying mental health issues, said the Howard League for Penal Reform.
“Custody does nothing to help that and everything to exacerbate these issues,” said Andrew Neilson, head of campaigns for the charity.
“First and foremost, custody is about security and locking people up and rehabilitation is second, particularly in the current context within prisons where budgets have been slashed.”
The fate of previous high-profile cases reveals the difficulty of rehabilitation given the notoriety of their crimes.
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