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The little girl who was found dead with her parents on the grounds of a prestigious school at the weekend was ‘perfect in every way’, a woman who used to look after her said last night.
Headteacher Emma Pattison, her husband George and their seven-year-old daughter Lettie were found dead in their home on the school grounds at 1am on Sunday.
Emergency services were called after a staff member at the award-winning independent school reportedly heard gunshots.
Surrey Police, which has reported their deaths to the coroner, said the tragedy was an ‘isolated incident’ with ‘no third-party involvement’.
Chloe Rathbown, 27, a nursery worker who used to look after Lettie, told The Times that she was heartbroken over the death of the seven-year-old.
Emma Pattison, 45, was found dead with her husband George, 39, and seven-year-old daughter Lettie after police were called yesterday. The family is pictured together
Mrs Pattison with her daughter Lettie. The seven-year-old has been described as a ‘little angel’ and ‘perfect in every way’ following her death on Sunday morning
‘They were such a lovely family and Lettie was perfect in every way.’
John Wildgoose, the photographer who captured the family just last month for the school’s announcement of her head-ship, said Lettie was a ‘little angel’ and that the family had an ‘obvious bond’ and big plans for the future.
Previous neighbours of the couple described Ms Pattison as a warm presence and said they were shocked to hear of the deaths of a ‘normal, happy family’.
One told the Telegraph: ‘You used to hear her playing in the garden, she was always asking them questions and just seemed like a happy, inquisitive little girl.’
Another woman who lived locally added that Lettie was particularly fond of her dog: ‘She was just a typical, well brought-up, lovely little girl. It’s just tragic.’
Surrey Police confirmed that the family’s new pet Labrador, Bella, was being looked after by relatives.
Friends of the couple and former business associates of Mr Pattison were too upset to talk when approached by the Mail last night.
Mr Pattison was a ‘successful’ chartered accountant known by friends for his ‘fast cars’, though he was said to be ‘much quieter’ than his wife.
They owned a Range Rover and a BMW 8 series, which were seen parked on the driveway as police conducted enquiries yesterday.
The family had recently moved out of their £1.5million Surrey house to live in the sprawling detached Edwardian house in which they were found dead.
They had lived in the four-bedroom property while Mrs Pattison was head teacher at Croydon High School, another prestigious independent school a few miles down the road.
Mrs Pattison was previously the headteacher of Croydon High School and graduated from the University of Leeds
The headteacher, who was described by the parent of a former pupil as ‘slight but very formidable’, had taken up the role just five months before her death
Epsom, which charges boarders up to £42,000 a year, was the 2022 Independent School of the Year.
Its alumni include BBC presenter Jeremy Vine and BBC Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchell.
Pupils of the school are understood to have been terrified to return to the college premises where there continues to be a significant police presence.
Parents were told early this week that discussions about temporarily closing the school were ongoing.
It is unlikely that the site will close completely as the school has students from abroad.
A service was held for Ms Pattison and her family on Monday and the school offered its condolences in a statement.
A source told The Telegraph a member of staff called 999 on Sunday morning after hearing gunshots in the school.
But police have confirmed that the gun range, despite being a stone’s throw away from the family home, is ‘not part of the crime scene’.
It is believed that no live ammunition is kept at the range and that guns are kept in a secured armoury.
The family’s house is next to the school’s indoor rifle range and both were cordoned off by police on Monday.
Forensics officers have been seen going into the home and a blue tent has been set up nearby.
The rifle range, which is just seconds away from the family home on foot, is not part of the crime scene, police said on Monday
Surrey Police said it is believed the tragedy is an ‘isolated incident’ and there is ‘no third-party involvement’. The family home on the school grounds is seen at the top of this image
Epsom has a long history of shooting and boasts a state-of-the-art eight lane shooting range which can be tried out by guests for £15.
Its armoury contains small-bore and full-bore rifles and the college has won the Ashburton Shield 15 times, more than any other school.
The head of shooting is David Nuttall, who was formerly in charge of shooting at Sedbergh School in Cumbria.
Shooting in schools and at clubs has to be approved by the Home Secretary and there are strict requirements for the storage of firearms and ammunition.
The school emphasises that there are many positive skills to be learnt from shooting sports, including concentration, self-discipline and sportsmanship.
The school issued a statement on Monday calling Mrs Pattison’s death ‘shocking and tragic’, while former colleagues mourned the death of a ‘talented headteacher’ and ‘dear friend’.
In December – four months after becoming the school’s first female headteacher – Mrs Pattison told a pupil podcast that she was ‘absolutely loving’ her time at Epsom.
‘It’s been very busy but absolutely wonderful. The college have been so supportive and everyone has been very, very welcoming,’ she said.
The only suggestion of any problems was the pressure the move had put on her family.
‘In terms of transition it’s been a really big change for my family,’ she said.
‘So we’ve obviously moved house, we’ve got a dog, I’ve got a new job, my husband’s got a new job, which wasn’t meant to happen but did, and my daughter has started at a new school.
‘So there’s been a lot of change for us as a family, but it’s been wonderful.’
Mrs Pattison also spoke about her approach to life, saying she wanted to ‘grow, learn, explore and live life to the fullest’.
She then spoke about her hobbies, including playing the piano and jogging, and how she liked learning. ‘There is something about being a lifelong learner,’ the teacher said.
‘And if you’re a reader and a modern linguist who likes going and talking to people and exploring different versions of life, I think that fits in with someone who always wants to grow, learn, explore and, I suppose, live life to the fullest.’
Epsom College paid tribute to Ms Pattison on Monday and said the school would be ‘coming together’ to mourn her death
Mrs Pattison shared a photo of her with a colleague after Epsom was named Independent School of the Year
Mrs Pattison’s first job after graduating from the University of Leeds with a BA Hons in French and English Literature was with the Thomas Cook graduate training programme.
But rather than being able to travel the world as she expected, she found herself mainly based in Bromley, south London, which was not ‘quite the sparkly lights of where I’d imagined I’d end up’.
In the podcast, Mrs Pattison described how she got into teaching after flicking through a copy of the Times Educational Supplement at a coffee shop.
‘I thought, why am I doing something I absolutely hate? This is much more fun.’
Mrs Pattison said she ‘hadn’t looked back’ since going into teaching, adding that ‘working with you people keeps you young, they keep you energised’.
She took her first teaching job in 2002 at Lutterworth College in South Leicestershire, before stints at private Caterham School in Surrey and Guildford High School where she was Head of Foreign Languages.
Around 2011 she married George, was a chartered accountant and director of a management consultancy firm called Tanglewood.
A year later she moved to St John’s School in Leatherhead, where she rose to deputy head, before becoming headteacher at Croydon High School in south London three years later.
Mrs Pattison told the pupil podcast she ‘absolutely loved’ her time there, but chose to become headteacher at Epsom because it was a school she had ‘long admired’.
One of her innovations there was to ask businesspeople from different sectors to advise pupils on the world of work.
Mrs Pattison appearing in the podcast in December, when she spoke of experiencing some ‘really big changes’ including taking new jobs, moving house and getting a new dog
Epsom College shared a post about the ‘shocking and tragic’ news of the headteacher’s death
A police car blocking the entrance to Epsom College today after its headteacher was found dead
Mrs Pattison’s also former colleague paid tribute to her.
Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), of which Croydon High School is part, said: ‘We are immensely shocked and saddened by the news about the death of Emma Pattison, her daughter Lettie and her husband George.
‘Our thoughts are with their family at this time, as well as everyone at Croydon High School, and Epsom College, which Emma joined as head in September 2022.
‘Emma was a much loved and respected member of the GDST community, as well as a talented head and teacher and a dear friend to many of us.
‘She touched the lives of all of us with her energy, wisdom and kindness during her six years as head of Croydon High School and the school will always bear the legacy of her inspiring leadership.
Mrs Pattison (pictured) became Epsom College’s first female headteacher in September last year
‘We are taking time to support staff and students at Croydon High School as well as everyone in the GDST family, and their wellbeing will be our priority in the coming days.’
Local MP Chris Grayling called the deaths ‘an appalling tragedy’, adding: ‘I know everyone locally will be shocked about what has happened.’
A mother of a pupil at Croydon High School told BBC News: ‘In her time as headteacher, she turned the school around, and she did so many things that enriched the children’s lives.
‘She was slight but very formidable, she knew all of the pupils by name. She was exactly what you would want from a headteacher.’
Epsom College said on Twitter that staff and pupils would pay their respects to their ‘wonderful head’ Mrs Pattison on Monday.
The school said: ‘The shocking and tragic news has now reached many about the death of our head, Emma Pattison. The College community will be coming together today to process the news, grieve and pay our respects to a wonderful head.
‘We will be in close contact with Surrey Police over the coming weeks and months. We hope everyone will respect the privacy of Emma’s family at this time and allow the College’s pupils, staff and wider community the time and space necessary to come to terms with this loss.’
Emma Pattison and her husband George (front row, right) pictured at a recent school event. The couple were found dead in the headteacher’s house at Epsom College
The school’s website was updated on Sunday night to list Paul Williams as Acting Headmaster following the death of Mrs Pattison
Known as an elite rugby school, Epsom College teaches more than 850 boys and girls aged 11 to 18.
Epsom College was described as a ‘shining example of all that is best about independent education’ at the Boarding Schools’ Association in October.
It won two awards, scooping the ‘Student Wellbeing’ award as well as the ‘Independent School of the Year’ prize.
Mrs Pattison described it as ‘an incredible honour’ and added: ‘We put focus on time, space and heart and spirit to give all the young people in our care everything they need to become the best version of themselves – in the classroom, on the sports field and in any field of interest that lights that spark within them.
‘There is so much amazing work to be celebrated in the industry at the moment, so this is a real privilege to be named the best of the best.
‘I am incredibly proud to be Head and we will display this award with real pride.’
In an interview last month, Mrs Pattison explained how she hoped to change the face of independent schools, saying ‘exclusivity is a dirty word’ in an interview published a fortnight before her death.
One of her final social media posts, written in October last year, celebrated the school’s recent accolades. Mrs Pattison (pictured in a photo included in the post) said: ‘Wow! What an honour. We’re thrilled to be Independent School of the Year’
She told Independent School Management Plus that private schools had to offer something different and be ‘part of the solution to some of the problems in society’.
‘If our pupils are going to lead in the world, let’s make sure that they really understand that world,’ she said.
‘They understand the structure of it, the problems, the issues and why things can’t just be fixed so easily.
‘The image of the exclusive private school has to be a thing of the past. Exclusivity is a dirty word nowadays. The independent schools’ sector has to offer something very different going forward, for its own pupils and the impact it could bring.
‘It could be time to shape a really exciting future for the country.’
Mrs Pattison wanted to open the school to allow diverse groups to join particular classes and access a range of projects – rather than just offering bursary schemes.
Epsom College gave over 9,830 hours of community service in the last year, estimated to be worth more than £141,000 in ‘social value’.
Mrs Pattison grew up on a farm in Lincoln, where she recalled feeding chickens at 6.30am as a part of everyday life. She attended the local girls’ grammar school.
Police and a security guard at Epsom College on Monday as investigations continue
The school flag was flying at half-mast this morning
After news of Mrs Pattison’s death, Dr Alastair Wells, chairman of the Board of Governors at Epsom College, said: ‘Emma was a wonderful teacher, but most of all she was a delightful person. In time we will commemorate Emma and her family, in the appropriate way, and in line with the wishes of her family.
‘But for now, we ask that we are all given the time, space and respect we need to come to terms with this tragic loss.’
The school website was updated yesterday evening and now lists Paul Williams as Acting Headmaster.
In a statement last night, a police spokesman said: ‘In the early hours of Sunday morning, Surrey Police was contacted by the South East Coast Ambulance Service to attend a property in the grounds of Epsom College.
‘Officers attended at around 1.10am where they, sadly, found the bodies of three people, including a child.
‘We can confirm that the bodies found were Emma Pattison aged 45 years. Head of Epsom College, her daughter Lettie, aged seven years and her husband George aged 39 years.
‘The family’s next-of-kins have been informed and are being supported by specialist officers.
‘An investigation is being carried out to establish the circumstances of their deaths. At this stage, police are confident that this is an isolated incident with no third-party involvement.’
Detective Chief Inspector Kimball Edey said: ‘On behalf of Surrey Police, my team, and I, I first want to express my sincerest condolences to the friends and family of Emma, Lettie and George, as well as to the students and staff of Epsom College, for their tragic loss.
‘I want to give my assurance that we will conduct a thorough investigation into what took place last night and hope to be able to bring some peace in these traumatic circumstances. I would ask that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time.’
Inspector Jon Vale, Epsom and Ewell’s borough commander, said: ‘We’re aware that this tragic incident will have caused concern and upset in the local community.
‘While this is believed to be an isolated incident, in the coming days, our local officers will remain in the area to offer reassurance to students, parents, teachers, and the local community.
‘I would like to thank the school and the community for their understanding and patience while the investigation continues.’