UK

Jeremy Forrest 'Fled To France With Schoolgirl After Police Queried Sexual Relationship'

11/06/2013 15:38 BST

A married teacher fled to France with a 15-year-old pupil who had a crush on him the day after police questioned her about their sexual relationship, a court has heard.

Fearing they were about to be exposed, Jeremy Forrest, 30, booked them on a cross-Channel ferry to Calais before spending seven days on the run, it is alleged.

Jurors heard that their relationship could not be compared to Romeo and Juliet but amounted to Forrest committing a "gross and long-term breach of trust".

jeremy forrest trial

Forrest is accused of child abduction

Lewes Crown Court heard that keen musician Forrest taught maths at Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, East Sussex, and that his marriage to wife Emily was strained.

In France, he and the girl dyed their hair to try to avoid detection, Forrest set up a French email account and bought a French mobile phone, and bogus CVs were drafted in an internet cafe to help land them work.

Prosecutor Richard Barton said Forrest used the alias Jack Dean and the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, gave herself a bogus name on the false CVs.

But an English bar owner to whom Forrest had applied for work recognised the pair from media reports, leading eventually to them being caught in the south western port city of Bordeaux on September 28 last year.

Opening the Crown's case, Mr Barton told the jury of four women and eight men: "This is not Romeo and Juliet; this is a 15-year-old girl with her own vulnerabilities, and a 30-year-old teacher.

"When parents send their children to school, they quite properly expect that those who teach their children will care for them properly."

He went on: "This case, the prosecution say, is about a gross and long-term breach of trust on the part of this defendant, not only of trust placed in him by the girl's mother and her family but also of other teachers and the governors of that school."

Scots-born Forrest, of Chislehurst Road, Petts Wood, Kent, denies child abduction.

The court heard that Forrest arranged to take the girl to his home for sex when his wife was away.

They also had sex in his car and he booked them into local hotels for overnight stays, including one across the road from the court.

Mr Barton said: "The girl would tell her mum that she was at a friend's house. Jeremy Forrest also lied to his wife about where he was at these times but in truth they were meeting up locally at a Premier Inn and the White Hart across the road from the court, purchasing rooms so that they could be together."

Mr Barton said the girl was a willing participant in them fleeing the country but that cannot be used by Forrest as a defence to the charge he faces.

Their disappearance led to several anxious days for the girl's family and involved intensive searches by authorities on both sides of the English Channel, he added.

In the run-up to the disappearance, Mr Barton said repeated attempts were made by other teachers to dissuade Forrest from encouraging the girl's infatuation with him.

"He gave the opinion that he did not seem worried about the crush," he said. "Mr Forrest denied that there was anything behind the gossip at all."

During a school holiday to Los Angeles which Forrest helped supervise, the girl told friends she enjoyed seeing him in his swimming trunks in the pool, jurors were told.

Mr Barton said: "It was clear that she was infatuated with him.

"It was sufficiently obvious that one member of staff spoke to Mr Forrest to warn him about it, saying 'You need to be careful', and he seemed to appreciate the concerns."

On the return flight, Forrest was seen holding the girl's hand as she was said to be a nervous flyer. Rumours circulated that he had written a song posted on his website about the girl.

Jurors heard that Mrs Forrest noticed her husband, whom she wed in 2011, was exchanging lots of messages with a "... Del Rey" after the singer Lana Del Rey. He also bought the girl an album by the American musician, it is alleged.

Twitter exchanges between the pair began to be noticed, leading to Forrest giving the girl his mobile phone number. Mr Barton said: "Thereafter, over the months, they were able to have contact one to one."

Meetings took place between the pair outside school hours when Forrest would drive them around in his black Ford Fiesta, including to a local crematorium, it is claimed.

Mr Barton continued: "In July, there were further rumours at the school, concerning how Mr Forrest was posting Twitter messages ostensibly about his wife, but which were in fact about (the girl).

"When he was challenged about this, he became upset, denied the rumours and asked why these falsehoods were being repeated about him.

"These weren't falsehoods. They were the complete truth. Those were crocodile tears because he was on the edge of being caught."

A "third party" tipped off police on September 14 - six days before the disappearance - about pictures Forrest is said to have sent the girl, and about their relationship.

Four days later, on September 18, a joint meeting was held between police, education officials and the school. It was decided that the girl should be asked whether she had received the images and about any relationship.

Then, the following afternoon, a police officer and a social worker went to the girl's home while she was "hanging around" at school and they spoke to her mother, Mr Barton went on.

The girl went to see Forrest to tell him about the visit. Mr Barton said that, because of the rumours and the questioning both had faced, they concluded the reason for the visit must have been their relationship.

"In fact, earlier in the year, they had discussed, perhaps in a fanciful way, running away together," he said. "But now it seemed much more of a realistic and tangible possibility."

When the girl got home, she told police she had no improper contact with Forrest, but officers received the go-ahead from her mother to seize her mobile phone for analysis.

Knowing their relationship was about to be revealed due to the messages and pictures stored on her phone, the girl secretly packed some belongings and her passport, Mr Barton said.

Meanwhile, that same evening at their home in Broyleside Cottages, Ringmer, Forrest's wife found him lying in bed claiming to be unwell.

He later took her for a meal at a Prezzo restaurant in Lewes, close to the Crown Court where he is standing trial.

Mr Barton said: "He seemed distracted and distant. He said he wanted to stop teaching and said he had a lot of things going on in his life.

"When his wife asked him what he meant by that, he said 'Please don't push it. I'm not talking about it. Stop now'.

"The things he didn't want to talk about were going to lead to him a few yards up the street in the dock here."

The next day, September 20, Forrest told the school he was unwell. In texts to his wife, he said he had a class for his Masters degree in London and would be spending the weekend at a friend's home.

The girl, meanwhile, arranged to stay overnight at a friend's house.

Then at 5pm, Forrest booked a ferry online for him and the girl that evening from Dover to Calais under the names J Forrest and "E Forrest.

Mr Barton said: "When he left home with a bag of personal belongings, he also took his wife's passport.

"It was clear that (Emily) and the girl looked sufficiently similar that it might just be that if they needed a passport she could use this one and trick the authorities."

The girl confided to her friend that she was not planning to spend the night at her home but that Forrest was instead about to collect her in his car.

According to other girls there, Mr Barton said Forrest arrived to pick her up looking "ashamed" and as if he had been crying.

"This defendant said words to the effect that he was sorry that he had to take (the girl) away."

The court was told that ANPR cameras caught Forrest's car heading across Sussex into Kent, and that the girl called a friend from Forrest's phone, saying: "Me and Jezz are going north."

Later that evening, Forrest texted his wife: "Don't worry, I'll call you tomorrow."

It was the final time she heard from him as he and the girl boarded the Spirit of France ferry from Dover to Calais at 9.20pm, the court was told.

Mr Barton said they arrived in Calais in the middle of the night before Forrest drove to Paris. In a diary the girl kept during the journey, she told how they tried to dodge being caught on CCTV cameras, jurors heard.

Back in the UK that morning, the girl's mother received a standard automatic text message from the school saying that she was absent from lessons.

When it emerged that the girl's friend with whom she was supposed to have stayed overnight was at school, police were called. At 2pm, officers contacted Forrest's wife as he was also absent from school.

Mr Barton said: "It soon became apparent that both he and (the girl) were missing, their whereabouts completely unknown.

"Given the events of the previous week, with the police involvement and (the girl) being asked to hand over her phone for analysis, the matter was immediately taken seriously and a significant and far-reaching search was commenced for a 15-year-old girl and the person who had abducted her."

Return ferry tickets had been booked by Forrest for 8.35pm on September 23 but, when they were not used, a European Arrest Warrant was obtained two days later for child abduction, the court was told.

"It is an offence to remove a child from the care of their parent or lawful guardian without that adult's consent," said Mr Barton.

"It is no defence whatsoever that the child concerned consents. It is wholly irrelevant. It cannot be a defence."

On the same day as the European Arrest Warrant was issued, Forrest gave his false CV to the owner of the HMS Victory bar in Bordeaux, Alison Cummins, who told him she would let him know if any jobs came up.

The trial heard that Ms Cummins saw Forrest in the street the following day with the girl and had a "nagging sense" that she had seen her somewhere before.

After looking at a news report on the Guardian website about the missing pair, she realised it was Forrest and the girl, and she contacted Sussex Police.

Officers travelled to Bordeaux where the pair were caught in the street as Forrest and the girl headed to the bar under the pretence that he was being offered a trial shift.

The girl was flown home the following day to be reunited with her mother, while Forrest returned to the UK on October 10 without opposing extradition, Mr Barton said.

The trial, due to last two weeks, continues.