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Detectives are investigating a possible murder-suicide at Epsom College after its first female head teacher was found dead alongside her husband and young daughter.
The bodies of Emma Pattison, 45, her husband George, 39, and their seven-year-old daughter Lettie were discovered by police at their home on the grounds of the prestigious school in Surrey.
Emergency services were reportedly alerted by a member of staff who had heard gunshots at the £42,000-a-year independent school at around 1am.
Mrs Pattison had only taken up the post at the prestigious school last September and was said to be ‘excited’ about her role as the first ever female head.
Only weeks ago she told a podcast presented by pupils that moving to Epsom College had been a ‘really big change’ and that her husband, who she married in 2011, had also unexpectedly changed jobs.
Emma Pattison, 45, was found dead with her husband George, 39, and seven-year-old daughter Lettie after police were called on Sunday. 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
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
‘In terms of transition, it’s been a really big change for my family,’ she said in December.
Farmers’ girl who went on to join teaching elite
Emma Pattison (pictured) grew up on a farm in Lincoln but rose to become the first female head teacher of one of Britain’s leading private schools.
She would get up to feed the chickens at 6.30am each morning before attending her girls’ school in Sleaford.
After reading French and English literature at Leeds University, she joined Thomas Cook’s graduate training scheme hoping to travel.
But instead she found herself based in Bromley, south London which she later joked was not ‘quite the sparkly lights’ she’d imagined. She changed careers after flicking through the Times Educational Supplement in a coffee shop, and teaching took her from South Leicestershire to a series of Surrey private schools in Caterham, Guildford and Leatherhead.
She became head at Croydon High School in south London in 2015. Friends told the Mail she ‘couldn’t wait’ to get started at Epsom in 2022 as the first ever female head. And within a month of her arriving, it had scooped Independent School of the Year and the Student Wellbeing award.
‘We’ve moved house – we’ve bought a dog. I’ve got a new job, my husband has got a new job. That wasn’t meant to happen, but it did, and my daughter has started a new school so there’s been a lot of change for us as a family.’
The school’s rifle range is just a stone’s throw from the head teacher’s lodgings, but police yesterday insisted that this was not ‘part of the crime scene’.
It is understood the range does not hold live ammunition and guns are kept in a secured armoury. Mrs Pattison’s home, which is surrounded by other teachers’ lodgings in the 19th century school’s grounds, was taped off yesterday.
Forensics officers were seen entering the property, where a Range Rover and BMW 8 series belonging to the family were parked on the driveway.
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.
The family had just sold their four-bedroom home in Caterham, Surrey, for a rumoured £1.5million.They had lived there while Mrs Pattison was head teacher at Croydon High School, another prestigious independent school a few miles down the road.
Parents of ex-pupils told how Mrs Pattison was an ‘amazing head teacher who completely changed the community’ in her six years at the girls’ school.
‘She knew every single member of the school – every child – she knew everything about them,’ said father Jamal Hirani. Another parent, who asked not to be named, said: ‘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 head teacher.’ Friends of the couple and former business associates of Mr Pattison were too upset to talk when approached by the Mail.
Neighbours of their old property in Caterham were struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.
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
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
Mrs Pattison appearing on a pupil podcast in December, when she spoke of experiencing some ‘really big changes’ including taking new jobs, moving house and getting a new dog
A woman living next door said: ‘It is just awful. I used to see Emma going for runs up the lane. She was also a good piano player.
‘I didn’t see George so much, he was quite quiet and kept himself to himself. But their daughter was so happy. You used to hear her playing in the garden, she was always asking them questions and just seemed like a happy, inquisitive little girl.’
Chloe Rathbown, 27, a nursery worker who used to look after Lettie, said she was heartbroken over her death.
‘They were such a lovely family and Lettie was perfect in every way,’ she told The Times.
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.
Mrs Pattison shared a photo of her with a colleague after Epsom was named Independent School of the Year
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 College shared a post about the ‘shocking and tragic’ news of the headteacher’s death
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.
Epsom College pupils attended a chapel service yesterday. Staff are understood to be telling parents they may close early this week for day pupils. The school, which teaches more than 850 boys and girls aged 11 to 18, was the 2022 Independent School of the Year and counts BBC journalists Jeremy Vine and Nicholas Witchell among its former pupils.
An Epsom College spokesman said: ‘The College community will be coming together to process the news, grieve and pay our respects to a wonderful head.’