'Slow, gentle giant' who blew up the No 30 bus and killed 13 others

Exclusive by Ian Rosser education reporter Hasib Hussain was an unremarkable high school student. His tutors describe him as a "slow, gentle giant" who was "perfectly normal".

In fact, he was so ordinary that – until two weeks ago – many of his teachers may have had difficulty remembering him at all.

Now, however, he will be remembered as the suicide bomber who claimed 14 lives when he blew up the No 30 bus in London's Tavistock Square.

"He was a perfectly normal student," said Colin Bell, headteacher of South Leeds High, which was formed last year following the merger of Merlyn Rees and Matthew Murray – Hussain's former school.

"Like many other teenagers, he had issues and there were some disciplinary matters to deal with. One was about graffiti and another was about not producing homework. Overall, it was fairly low-level stuff. In some ways that's been the difficult part for the school to deal with."

Mr Bell said reports that had painted Hussain as a school failure who never sat his GCSE exams and spread warning leaflets around the school following the US September 11 attacks were wrong.

"There has been a lot of misinformation spread about this young man," he said. "He did the GCSEs, contrary to reports in the media, and he did not spread leaflets of hate mail around the school. It's just not true.

"We are as staggered as anyone else that this has happened and there was absolutely no indication during his time here that it would. There has been an element of disbelief and disappointment. Everybody is clear about how abhorrent such an act was, but as a general rule, the school carries on as normal.

"The children here need consistency, and that's what we are trying to give them. There are children who are certainly more subdued than normal. For the most part they are children from the Beeston community who may have known Hasib."

Hussain was at Matthew Murray from 1998 to 2003, during which time he had a good attendance record. He achieved GCSEs in English language, English literature, maths, science, Urdu, design technology and a GNVQ in business studies. He went on to study at Thomas Danby College on Roundhay Road in Leeds, where he gained an AVCE in business this year.

One of Hussain's fellow suicide bombers, Shehzad Tanweer, had an even more successful school career. While studying at Wortley High from 1994 to 2001, he gained good GCSE grades in science, maths, geography, English language, English literature, French, PE and religion education.

He also passed technology and IT exams before going on to study biology and English literature at A-level. Tanweer also studied at Thomas Danby before moving on to start a sports science degree at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Chris Edwards, chief executive of Education Leeds, which runs school support services, said both the men, plus the third suicide bomber from Leeds – Mohammad Sidique Khan – had all been part of the city's education set-up.

"From what I have been told, Hasib Hussain was a fairly slow, gentle giant. What happened after he left school, we don't know. If we want to analyse this, it's much more complicated than a supposed failure of the education system.

"He wasn't a failure in terms of the system."

l In tomorrow's YEP: How schools cope in a crisis.