Teacher Jeremy Forrest has been found guilty of abducting a 15-year-old girl who he took to France when their sexual affair was about to be exposed. Forrest, of Chislehurst Road, Petts Wood, south east London, was convicted by the jury following an eight-day trial at Lewes Crown Court.
The 30-year-old was labelled a "paedophile" by the prosecution, who said he "groomed" the vulnerable teenager and his actions were a gross breach of trust. The trial has heard how the pupil had just turned 15 when she started a sexual relationship with Forrest after developing a crush on him at Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
Fearing they were about to be exposed, Forrest 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 the pair had a sexual relationship. Forrest would pick the girl up in her school uniform and they would have sex in his car, in hotels and at his marital home.
The court heard that the girl told a friend they had sex up to eight times a night. The girl also sent the defendant topless pictures of herself and he sent a photo of himself with his torso naked and his hands in his underpants. Richard Barton, prosecuting, said Forrest's actions were an abuse of trust and he had not acted with the consent of the girl's parents.
He added that Forrest could be labelled a "paedophile" who had groomed the vulnerable teenager. Ronald Jaffa, defending, said the girl was "desperate and suicidal" and Forrest went with her to France to prevent her coming to harm.
In a dramatic moment before the hearing got under way this morning, Forrest's father Jim collapsed in court and was treated by a paramedic before being taken away by ambulance. The defendant, wearing a grey suit, striped shirt and purple tie, and with cropped hair and glasses, could be seen to be worried and consulted with his family as he took his seat in the dock.
As the foreman of the jury announced the verdict, the girl put her head in her hands and burst out crying. As the jury arrived back in court, Forrest had turned to her and said: "I love you." He remained stony-faced as the verdict was given. And as he was taken down to the cells, the girl said to the defendant: "I'm sorry."
In a statement read outside court by Detective Inspector Neil Ralph, the girl's mother thanked police and French authorities for ensuring her daughter's safe return. "As a family, for the last nine months it's been like living out your worst nightmare," she said. "Every aspect of our lives has been affected to some degree." Praising her family's support, she added: "Your lives have been turned upside down yet you have been dignified when knowing the truth."
Sentencing was later adjourned until 11.45am on Friday. Speaking outside court, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Portia Ragnouth said: "This case was one where a teacher was in a position of authority over a 15-year-old pupil and abducted her, taking her to another country. "Not only did he breach the trust and confidence that all the parents at that school had placed in him, he also brought disgrace to his profession who are trusted to look after the children in their care.
"Nothing detracts from the fact that this was an abduction. The law clearly states that it is an offence to remove a child from the care of their parents or lawful guardian without the adult's consent. Add to that the torment and anguish that the victim's family went through while they were gone."
Outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Ling, who led the police investigation, said Forrest had "grossly abused" the trust placed in him. "As a teacher, he was in a position of responsibility, authority and trust of the children in his care, which included this 15-year-old vulnerable victim," he said.
"His actions caused distress and anxiety amongst parents, family members and the school community." In her statement read by Mr Ralph, the girl's mother added: "To my family and friends, thank you. You have given me overwhelming courage, strength and love, especially during the dark days when the whereabouts of my daughter wasn't known."