Teacher guilty of abducting girl
"Paedophile" teacher Jeremy Forrest, who "groomed" a 15-year-old girl before taking her to France when he was about to be exposed, has been found guilty of child abduction.
A jury took less than two hours to convict Forrest following an eight-day trial at Lewes Crown Court. The 30-year-old defendant, who remained stony-faced, turned to the girl and said: "I love you," as the verdict was about to be announced. The girl sobbed and said: "I am sorry," as he was led back to the cells.
The trial heard how the pupil had just turned 15 when Forrest started having sex with her, having groomed the vulnerable teenager after she developed a crush on him at Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Fearing they were about to be discovered, Forrest, of Chislehurst Road, Petts Wood, Kent, booked them on a cross-Channel ferry from Dover to Calais on September 20 last year before spending seven days on the run in France.
The trial heard that Forrest would pick the girl up in her school uniform and would have sex with her in his car, in hotels and at his marital home. The girl told a friend that they had sex up to eight times a night. The defendant also sent the girl "indecent images" of himself showing his naked torso with his hands down his underpants. She responded with pictures of her naked breasts.
The police and the school's failure to prevent Forrest running off with the girl has come under heavy criticism over their handling of the case. Police were not alerted until seven months after first concerns were raised and then when they were notified they held a meeting, rather than question or arrest Forrest immediately.
Teachers were first made aware of concerns about their relationship after a school trip to Los Angeles in February 2012. They were seen by several pupils to be holding hands during the return flight. Forrest failed to heed words of advice from senior staff members and went on to continue his relationship with the girl. And despite a further warning to Forrest after inappropriate messages on Twitter were brought to the school's attention, he was still able to continue seeing the girl, who he began having sex with.
Police were finally alerted on September 14 about an inappropriate relationship between them, and four days later a joint strategy meeting was held involving them, the school and education services. The girl's home was then visited by a police officer and a social worker on September 19 who seized her mobile phone looking for indecent images of Forrest. The following day the defendant took flight to France, taking the girl with him.
Child abuse campaigner Marilyn Hawes, a teacher for 25 years and founder of Enough Abuse UK, criticised the school authorities for not acting on the earlier warning signs and has called for the headteacher - Terry Boatwright - to be sacked.
A spokesman for East Sussex County Council, the authority in charge of the school, said: "Our priority right from the start of this case has always been the welfare of the young person involved. That remains our primary concern and we are working closely with her and her family, providing a range of support."
Richard Barton, prosecuting, said Forrest's actions were an abuse of trust. He said Forrest could be labelled a "paedophile" who had groomed the vulnerable teenager. Ronald Jaffa, defending, said the girl was "desperate and suicidal" and Forrest had gone with her to France to prevent her coming to harm. Judge Michael Lawson QC adjourned the case for sentencing on Friday at 11.45am and Forrest was taken back to his cell at Lewes Prison until then.