Education: Criminal record was no bar to university study

DESPITE a humble upbringing in a council house, Stephen Griffiths attended one of the country's leading independent schools and went on to study at two Yorkshire universities.

More reports and background on Stephen Griffiths

But his academic achievements hid a sinister personality and a long, disturbing record of violent behaviour which began within only a year of leaving school.

He was locked up at 17 for stabbing a security guard but remained a danger on his release, even holding a knife to the faces of two fellow students while taking a course at a further education college.

His appalling criminal record, which included two spells behind bars, did not prevent him from studying for undergraduate degree at Leeds University, however, and he was still a postgraduate at Bradford University at the time of his arrest.

The serial killer, whose family called him by his middle name Shaun, was born on Christmas Eve in 1969 and lived in Dewsbury during his early childhood.

His parents separated when he was young and he moved to a semi-detached council house in Wakefield, where he lived with his mother, brother and sister.

In his teens, he attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield, a top independent school whose stated aims include "to encourage high standards of personal behaviour and the development of moral and spiritual values".

Extraordinarily, he is not the first serial killer to have been educated there. John George Haigh, better known as the "Acid Bath Murderer", won a scholarship to the school before he killed six people between 1944 and 1949.

Haigh, who claimed to have killed as many as nine, was hanged in 1949.

Managers at the school, whose more creditable alumni include rugby star Mike Tindall, fianc of Princess Anne's daughter Zara Phillips, confirmed that Griffiths had been a pupil for three years until 1986.

But they were unable to confirm whether public money had been used to help fund Griffiths's studies at the school, which now charges fees of almost 10,000 a year.

"Fee assistance was available," a spokeswoman explained, "but we don't hold records from that time." Griffiths is said to have stood out as an "oddball" at the school, carrying a briefcase containing a knife and speaking of his fascination with weapons and martial arts magazines.

Griffiths left the school at 16 and was convicted of wounding a year later but, despite being sentenced to three years behind bars, he was still able to enrol at Bradford College after his release.

There he ran into more trouble with the law, and he was jailed for a further three years in 1992 after he threatened two female students with a knife.

Griffiths was described in court as an intelligent young man who had been under a great deal of pressure and had begun to feel isolated at the college.

"He saw a threat when there was not one there, and brandished a knife at innocent people," the court heard.

After completing his sentence, Griffiths attained a degree in psychology from Leeds University and pursued a postgraduate career.

From 2004, Griffiths studied part-time at Bradford University and had little contact with staff or fellow students as he carried out research for a local history PhD thesis with the working title Homicide in an Industrial City: Lethal Violence in Bradford 1847 to 1899.

His research focused on Victorian murder patterns and involved searching through the archives of newspapers and periodicals at Bradford's City Library.

The project, which he studied for under the supervision of Bradford's School of Lifelong Learning and Development, would have cost him up to 1,740 a year in course fees although the university has declined to say how the work was funded, claiming disclosure of this information would breach the Data Protection Act.

It is understood that Griffiths had been disciplined at university for threatening fellow students after losing his temper during seminars.

"Clearly, Griffiths thought he was quite clever," a police source said, "and, during a group debate, when he couldn't win an argument or persuade everybody to see his point of view, he couldn't deal with it.

"He is a manipulative individual and would be threatening to his fellow students when normal people would just move on."

The murder charges came as a shock to Griffiths's family, who apparently had little to do with him after he left home.

His mother Moira, who has worked as a telephonist, lives in a block of flats behind Dewsbury railway station while his father, also called Stephen, lives in Batley and has worked as a frozen food company rep, a general manager, an entertainments manager and an industrial chemicals salesman in the past.

Mr Griffiths Snr said: "He left home over 22 years ago, before he was 18. I haven't seen or spoken to him in going on 10 years.

"All of our sympathies are with the victims and their families."

Griffiths's uncle Joe Dewhirst, who grew up with Moira in the mining village of Thornhill, near Dewsbury, said: "This has hit us hard. The entire family has been traumatised. We don't know what to make of it all."

Mr Dewhirst remembered Griffiths being "very neatly dressed" but "very quiet and withdrawn" at family gatherings.

"He didn't run about the place like the other kids," Mr Dewhirst added.

"You could never read him. He wasn't the kind of lad you could talk to about football or things like that.

"He was very much a loner."