The Prescotian Webzine

The St.Helens Road site of the old Prescot Grammar School and latterly Prescot School was the subject of a pre-meditated arson attack in early 1978. The attack took place in the early hours of the morning and the perpetrator, an ex-pupil Derek Melia was subsequently imprisoned for his deed. There were in fact two fires to see off most of the 'temporary' buildings erected in 1924.

The first fire destroyed all the classrooms from between the library and approximately Room 12, including science and language labs. The block containing the sixth form centre and the old outside toilets survived, as did the 1960's development around the Spencer Briggs Hall. It seems that in the second fire in July 1978 destroyed the gymnasium area, the central quad and the Staff Room. In the first fire all the fantastic school pictures outside the library were lost forever. [See Glyn Phillips' photos of the site in the early nineties].

Temporary 'portakabins' were erected prior to the full move to the Knowsley Park Lane site soon after. Apparently, even the staff had to make do with life in one of these 'huts'. Even when the two sites were amalgamated on Knowsley Park lane's site, there was very little new building except for the VIth Form Centre built on the field at Park Wing and the inevitable portakabins on the tennis courts.

There is a belief that the arson attack was a stroke of good fortune for the Local Education Authority as it was a time of falling roles and conservative government encouragement to sell off school fields to property developers for housing needs!

But what of the arsonist, Derek Melia? Melia, who left school in 1977, was sent to a life sentence on his eighteenth birthday but was released after six years. He was described as being very quiet at school and a keen pigeon-fancier. He was generally well liked and able to handle himself in aggressive situations. He was quite reclusive and seemingly shy. His attendance record deteriorated from the second year onwards. During the court case, he was portrayed as a fairly unstable character who believed that nobody l had ever given him a chance at the school. He had also burnt-out a neighbour's car and been caught red-handed setting a timer-device at the Knowsley Park Lane site!
Edited from contributions from Steve Donohue, Guy Lovelady, 'Sue', Brain Cook and Ken Holt.

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