PUBLISHED: 01:43 GMT, 23 March 2012 | UPDATED: 08:58 GMT, 23 March 2012
Every weekday morning I drive to a building surrounded by razor wire. It has bomb-proof windows, security guards posted next to its tall, iron gates, and sturdy fences that ring the perimeters. Access to anyone is by entry phone — or by convincing the guards you have a right to enter.
So do I work in a prison? No. I have children who attend a Jewish school near our home in Manchester.
Though the security at the school may sound shockingly heavy-handed, my sons barely notice it and we parents gratefully accept it. However, every so often I ask myself: is this how we really need to protect a school in modern Britain?
Sadly, there is no choice. And after the horrific events in Toulouse this week, which saw the killing of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school just like my children’s, I can’t see that changing.
I was driving when the news came through on the radio and, shaking hard, I just about managed to manoeuvre the car through the morning traffic as I fought to take it in. As soon as I could, I pulled over to phone my husband and tell him what had happened.
- Al Qaeda claims Toulouse fanatic shot dead by police was ‘one of ours’ as it emerges killer had sick video of himself executing victims
- Al Qaeda fanatic is DEAD: Serial killer jumps out flat window with all guns blazing in dramatic end to 32-hour siege
- The French connection: Will we soon be seeing these Al Qaeda inspired shootings here?
Not only was there deep shock and profound sorrow, there was something else, too — a cold dread that fingered the spine. Put simply, I was terrified.
For the sorry truth is that schools like my children’s would not need such protection if there was a not a genuine threat in Britain, too. Don’t believe me? Three of my four children attend Jewish schools (the fourth is now on a gap year), and over recent years they, along with many of their friends and classmates, have been targets for anti-Semitic abuse.
Only recently, my 13-year-old son and his friends were walking home from the local Jewish high school when a group of yobs from across the road taunted them by shouting: ‘You Jews, Zeig Heil! We hate you, Jews.’
Ask any of the pupils about this kind of incident and they will tell you — to quote my 16-year-old son — that ‘it happens all the time’.
These are not teenagers who are ultra-orthodox, so there are no overt signs of their religion, except that they are walking home from a Jewish school. They look like any other scruffy kids as they amble along with their skewed ties, untucked shirts, backpacks and pockets jammed with jaw-rotting sweets. But even that relative anonymity doesn’t protect them.
The son of one friend of mine had eggs thrown at him by a group of youths as he made his way home, while another was actually set upon by a trio of mindless young idiots — though he managed to break free and run away, thankfully, with just a few bruises. Little wonder that on the afternoon of the Toulouse murders, as I went to collect my seven-year-old daughter from school, the atmosphere in the playground was febrile with what I can only describe as a collective terror.