Edith Cavell - Nurse and WWI Martyr | Margaret Sanger - Pioneer in Birth Control and Women's Rights | Lisa Potts - Schoolyard Heroine | Flora Sandes - Heroine of the Great War | The Night Witches - Russian Combat Pilots of World War Two | Lillie Hitchcock-Coit - Firefighter | Emily Wilding Davison - Suffragette | Caroline Chisholm - The Emigrants' Friend | Grace Darling - the Lighthouse Heroine
In 1996, 21-year-old nursery nurse and classroom assistant Lisa Potts risked her life, protecting the children she was looking after from a machete wielding attacker, at her school in Wolverhampton, UK.
A Selfless Act
On 8 July, 1996, the children, parents and teachers of St Luke's Church of England Infants School in Blakenhall, Wolverhampton were enjoying a teddy-bears' picnic when they were attacked by a man waving a machete. 33-year-old Horrett Campbell ran riot. He slashed at a child's mother, then jumped a small fence and struck two more parents. Lisa Potts, thinking quickly, grabbed a few of the smaller children and ran into the school building with them. However, she had a full class of eighteen children under her care and many remained outside. Campbell was now amongst the children, so Lisa rushed back outside to them. She took the brunt of the attack, shielding the screaming children cowering in her skirt. As she put her hand up to protect a small girl from Campbell's wild swinging with the blade, he slashed at the child's face, cutting both Lisa's hand and the girl. Lisa tucked the youngster under her arm and ran indoors, where most of the children were - except for one boy, who Campbell turned on, cutting him across the head. Lisa ran back outside three more times to rescue that boy and the remaining children, and once all were safe inside she shut the door to the classroom. Campbell however, forced open the door and started to attack Lisa with the blade, slashing her back as she defended the children:
I couldn't believe what was going on. I was just really concerned for the children. They were hiding under my skirt, holding on to my legs and screaming my name. I was trying to hide them in the cupboards. I was desperately trying to open the door to get them out but I couldn't because my arm was such a mess. It must have been the adrenaline that kept me going.
With all the commotion of other parents and teachers rushing to the scene, Campbell ran off. A local man with a history of mental health problems including paranoid schizophrenia, he was later convicted on seven counts of attempted murder and ordered to be detained indefinitely in a secure hospital.
The Angel of St Luke's
On 14 June, 1997, Lisa was presented with the George Medal by Queen Elizabeth II. In her citation for the medal it was said that Lisa had saved the children's lives, despite being severely injured herself. Three of the children in her care and four adults, parents of some of the children, suffered injuries, many of which led to permanent scars, but due to Lisa's actions, no one died. The school headmistress herself commented:
[Letting them die] was something I could never ever dream of doing.
More than four years after the attack, Lisa was disappointed when she received a paltry sum in compensation for her terrible injuries. She suffered a total of eleven lacerations to her scalp, back and arms after she courageously dived in to protect the youngsters from further harm, but felt the money was inadequate considering that the attack had ended her career. She bore the physical scars where Campbell's blade sliced through knuckles and tendons, leaving her with a weakened grip, but she also endured depression, blackouts and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lisa became a project worker, supporting pregnant mothers and families with young children. She also started her own charity, Believe To Achieve, offering counselling, mentoring, creative activities and play schemes at five schools in Wolverhampton. In the years that followed, she found it difficult to get close to others and her personal relationships suffered. However, she met policeman Dave Webb and it seemed to be love at first sight. The two were quickly engaged and married on 23 December, 2002. She continued to contribute to many charities and became a Guide Leader and a judge for the Pride of Britain Awards that honour acts of bravery.
After the birth of her son Alfie in February 2004, Lisa chose to reduce her work and concentrate on family life. Former pupil Francesca Quintyne, who herself suffered awful injuries from the machete during the attack, sent Lisa text messages after Alfie was born. Lisa recalled:
She sends me all sort of things I can't do, such as little bunny rabbits with messages. I have a bond with all the children I was with that day, but even before it happened I was very close to Francesca and it has just carried on.
Lisa also published books concerning the events of the attack:
Behind The Smile is Lisa's own story.
Thank You God: A Book of Children's Prayers, written by pupils aged between 4 and 12 years from St Luke's and compiled by Lisa, is a collection of prayers, It includes the following:
Sometimes situations are difficult. Help me Lord to get through tough times.
- Amy Brettel, aged 10