Reports Of Teacher Jeremy Forrest's Affair With Schoolgirl Were Dismissed By School, Review Finds

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JEREMY FORREST
File photo dated 10/06/13 of Jeremy Forrest as a jury at Lewes Crown Court will hear more from a police interview with a schoolgirl allegedly abducted by the married teacher after they formed an intimate relationship and fled to France. | PA

Concerned pupils told school staff about the affair between teacher Jeremy Forrest and a teenage schoolgirl SIX times before he abducted her, but the school failed to take action, a damning review has found.

Worries raised by children about the growing closeness between married maths teacher Forrest and his pupil were "repeatedly dismissed".

Instead, Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, East Sussex, adopted a "default position" of "intuitively supporting a colleague" in the face of evidence that he might be an abuser.

SEE ALSO: Runaway Schoolgirl Dumps Jailed Teacher Lover

It was also revealed that the girl, who cannot be named, was never spoken to by school staff in a supportive way, according to the serious case review by the East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board.

And the school's failure to involve the girl's mother in responding to events was another "cause for concern" and she was "denied the opportunity to assist her daughter", the report said.

Forrest, 31, was jailed for five-and-a-half years for child abduction and five charges of sexual activity with a child at Lewes Crown Court in June.

The case of Forrest and the girl, referred to in the report as Child G, attracted worldwide attention after he abducted her to France and they spent seven days on the run.

They dyed their hair, gave themselves false names on CVs to try to get work, and Forrest threw his mobile phone into the English Channel to prevent its signal betraying their whereabouts.

The report reserves particular criticism for the school, with some staff failing to recognise the child protection implications in some events and believing Forrest was the victim.

"All the specialist and senior staff in the school seem to have reconstructed the events into misconduct by Child G," the report noted.

"Mr K (Forrest) became the victim. Even when reporting to this review after Mr K's imprisonment, there was evidence of some school staff failing to recognise the child protection implications in some of the earlier events."

Evidence of an inappropriate relationship between Forrest and the girl first surfaced during a school trip to the United States in February 2012.

Two pupils approached the head of the upper school and reported rumours that the girl had a "crush" on Forrest since the trip.

Forrest denied any inappropriate relationship to senior staff and no other agency was involved, the report said.

Some information was given to the girl's mother, who was said to be satisfied with the way the school dealt with it.

The report said: "It is striking that it was, overwhelmingly, young people who raised concerns about this situation.

"Those concerns were repeatedly dismissed. Serious case reviews have often commented on agencies' failures to hear the 'voice of the child' but this has generally been a reference to the abused child.

"Here the very nature of the abuse, grooming and exploitation, made it unlikely that the victim would raise concerns.

"Yet agencies, and particularly the school, were too ready to dismiss the reports received from other children.

"That should lead those agencies to reconsider how they respond, individually and together, to concerns raised by young people."

The school showed a "reluctance to acknowledge the increasing evidence of an improper relationship", the report went on.

With evidence mounting, the school, referred to as School D, did not adhere to any process for identifying, analysing and responding to the emerging concerns.

The report said: "This review has identified serious concerns about School D's management of the situation involving (Forrest) and (the girl).

"Over a period of some seven months, there were a number of missed opportunities by school staff to recognise or acknowledge there was a significant problem arising from (Forrest's) conduct, and that child protection intervention was necessary."

A rumour that Forrest and the girl had been seen holding hands was a "very significant piece of evidence" which should have alerted the school authorities to child protection issues.

"(Forrest) was advised about 'professional boundaries', implying that in some way he had breached or was in danger of breaching those boundaries," it added.

"Yet the response to the situation appears to have been determined entirely from the perspective of a teacher at risk of false allegations.

"This sort of 'fixed thinking' is repeatedly identified as a factor in situations which lead to serious case reviews (SCRs)."

For the fifth time, on May 22 last year, school staff were alerted by other students again to evidence of an improper relationship between the pair.

Three specific comments between them on Twitter included "marriage falling apart", "separate rooms" and "miss you", it was revealed to school staff.

But instead of Forrest becoming the focus of investigation, the girl was, with her Twitter account accessed and nothing of concern being noted.

The report said: "The three quotes detailed above, particularly 'miss you', unequivocally indicate an inappropriate relationship."

It added: "Even without the context of the previous concerns, the school's response to this evidence of conduct which clearly flouted professional boundaries was subdued."

The report's authors said there appeared to have been a "complacency" about such unprofessional conduct by a member of staff.

One step the school did take was to refer the girl to a "Safe Around Sex workshop". It was said by the deputy head to have been because of "wider welfare concerns" about her rather than rumours of her "crush" on Forrest.

But the report's authors were critical of the decision. "It is difficult to understand the thinking which prompted this referral," they said.

"The school has reported that (the girl) fitted a 'profile' of young women who had become pregnant soon after leaving school, in that she was vulnerable, quiet and naive.

"She was certainly vulnerable but this response continued to locate any continuing problem with (the girl) rather than the teacher who was abusing her."

The sixth suggestion of a relationship between the pair came from two former pupils who visited the school to disclose their concerns, including that Forrest had picked the girl up after work experience.

Yet the report said staff, including the headteacher, appeared to have been "oblivious to the possibility" that the girl was being abused by Forrest.

Another child refused to be taught by Forrest, calling him a "pervert", the report went on. Despite wider rumours of Forrest's behaviour circulating, that knowledge did not lead to any action.

The report also highlighted serious concerns about the way information was recorded, stored, retrieved and provided to the authors by the school.

There was no contemporaneous recording of any of the emerging concerns, despite schools having comprehensive guidance by the local authority.

The review also uncovered some weaknesses in routine child protection work in the case. Initial inquiries by police should have been carried out by the child protection team, it said.

A raft of recommendations were made for professionals, including the school, East Sussex Children's Services and Sussex Police.

The school was asked to update its safeguarding policy, undertake an independent and bi-annual file audit of their child protection cases, and be reminded of the importance of maintaining accurate written records.

Terry Boatwright, executive headteacher at Bishop Bell C of E School, apologised for the failings and said they have been working hard to address the issues.

He admitted that the school "did not act with the correct level of investigative rigour, administrative efficiency and consideration for the concerns" raised by students.

Mr Boatwright said: "We are extremely sorry for these previous failings, particularly for the impact they have had on the victim, her family and friends, school students, parents and all our staff.

"As a result, many of the recommendations from the SCR have already been implemented, with advanced plans and arrangements in place to address the remainder."

The chair of the East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board, Cathie Pattison, said: "I felt very strongly there needed to be a multi-agency review of this case.

"It was a serious case of abuse of a young person who was abducted from her family and I was sure there would be learning not just for the agencies directly involved but also more widely. I was also aware that the young person's family wanted a thorough review."