accessibility & help

Stephen Lawrence

The bus stop in Eltham where teenager Stephen Lawrence was attacked in April 1993© InfoYou see a young man covered in blood, lying on the pavement. What would you do? Yes, call an ambulance. But could you do anything positive to help before the paramedics arrive? What if the police at the scene seem not to be doing very much? Could a teenager try to stop the bleeding? Explore practical questions about the barriers to helping with activities based on what actually happened the night Stephen Lawrence died.

What would you do?

Ask students to imagine that they are in a house, looking out at a city street.

Say that you are going to read out a series of sentences describing what they can see from the window. Students' task is to write down, in simple note form, after each sentence, what they think they themselves could do to help and what, in reality, they would be likely do. Each new piece of information may change their response. That's fine.

  • You see a young man, covered in blood, lying on the pavement. What could you do to help? What would you actually do?
  • Two police officers are at the scene. They seem to be checking the young man's breathing. He seems to be in the recovery position. What could you do to help? What would you actually do?
  • One police officer is crouching down beside the young man. She is giving him comfort, but not looking for a wound. What could you do to help? What would you actually do?
  • Minutes pass by and you realise that neither police officer is going to do what you have learnt in first aid – which is to find the source of the bleeding and apply pressure. What could you do to help? What would you actually do?

Before comparing notes, ask students to write down what they feel about watching while someone is lying badly injured. If this had happened in real life, what would their emotions be – at the time and once the ambulance had taken the young man away?

Explain that this did happen in real life. The person watching was 14-year-old Helen Avery who watched with her sister as Stephen Lawrence was lying in the street with the police waiting for an ambulance. If necessary, check that students know that Stephen died after being stabbed in the street on 22 April 1993.

According to Helen Avery's evidence to the official inquiry following Stephen's death, she "was amazed that no-one was attending to the body on the floor or trying to stem the flow of blood. She saw that there was a lot of blood and her knowledge of First Aid told her that something ought to have been done."

While listening to students' responses and their accounts of what they might do, let them know that Stephen was so badly injured that first aid would not have saved his life. The inquiry report pointed this out, but also criticised the police for inaction: "They had no way to know how severe the injuries actually were and they should have performed First Aid in case Stephen's life could have been saved."

From students' responses, try to identify the barriers that prevent someone like a 14 year old acting in the presence of an injured person and police. Which of the following categories best describe the main barriers:

  • knowledge (knowing what to do)
  • skills (being able to do it)
  • attitude (feeling confident to act, for example).

Role play a scene of an injured person where people are waiting not acting. How easy would it be to go to the police or other adults in authority and say, "I think that person is bleeding and needs help. Shall we try to stop the blood flow?" Try to work out the best language and tone to use, and to prepare a response if rebuffed.

Heavy bleeding first aid

The basics of first aid for heavy bleeding, including from injury caused by a stab wound, are:

  • Put pressure on the wound to stop or slow down the flow of blood.
  • Ring 999 and call for an ambulance.
  • Keep pressure on the wound till the ambulance arrives.

Knowing those basics will stand students in good stead. Learn them, and test frequently. Repeat them until it is impossible to forget them.

At the same time, ask students to explore some of the questions that arise about how this might work in practice or concerns they might have. Research online to find answers. For example, this British Red Cross page gives answers to the following questions:

  • What can I use to put pressure on the wound?
  • What do I do if the bleeding soaks through the item I've used?
  • The person looks pale and feels cold and dizzy. What does this mean?
  • Should I worry about infection or catching something from their blood?
  • Should I wash the wound?
  • What should I do if there is an embedded object in the wound?
  • How do I treat nosebleeds?

Poetry exercises

In an English class, focus on the poem about Stephen Lawrence by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy

Cold pavement indeed
the night you died, murdered;
but the airborne drop of blood
from your wound
was a seed your mother sewed
into hard ground –
your life's length doubled,
unlived, stilled,
till one flower, thorned,
bloomed in her hand,
love's just blade.

Note the verb sewed, which is not the expected sowed, normally what is done with seeds. Why would sowed not be appropriate? What effect does sewed have – suggesting something fixed, not growing?

Talk about the phrase, "love's just blade". Is that a description of the flower, thorned, that later bloomed in Stephen's mother's hand? What might that mean or refer to? Does it relate to justice?

One of the passers-by who stopped to help Stephen went home when the ambulance arrived. He washed the blood off his hands with some water into a container and poured the water with Stephen's blood in it at the foot of a rose tree. Ask students to write their own poem or short story based on this event.



This lesson plan was produced in January 2012 and written by PJ White.


Related resources

A man in an emergency response vehicle


This quick activity encourages students to think about contacting the emergency services.

Someone’s crying and distressed. You want to help. Find out how.

Teach first aid to young people with our easy to use kit - even if you have no prior first aid experience.

Sign up now

Enter your email address and start receiving newsthink, our free topical teaching resource.