Police halted their inquiries into claims of a relationship between a teacher and a 15-year-old pupil hours before they fled to France, a court has heard.
• Police halted inquiries into relationship between teacher and 15-year-old pupil hours before they fled to France
• Court also hears Jeremy Forrest was warned to keep his distance from girl by colleagues
Officers seized the schoolgirl’s mobile phone five days after receiving a tip-off that married Jeremy Forrest, 30, had sent her intimate pictures to it.
The phone was seized after the pair had started meeting for sex, the court was told, and following rumours at their school, Bishop Bell C of E in Eastbourne, East Sussex, of a relationship between them.
Lewes Crown Court has heard that after the mobile phone was confiscated for analysis by police, the girl “panicked” that the authorities and her mother would find out.
Today jurors were told that the day after the girl’s phone was taken away, an officer spoke to a teacher at the school on September 20 saying there was “no evidence” on it.
Alicja Bobela, the assistant head with responsibilities for child protection matters, said: “They said that there was no evidence on (the girl’s) phone so they were not going to seize Jeremy’s phone.
“So we were left with the idea that we had to follow up the investigation. We didn’t know where to begin.”
The court has heard that later that same day Forrest booked cross-Channel ferry tickets for him and the girl under his and his wife’s names before driving to the Port of Dover.
Fearing their relationship was about to be exposed following the phone’s seizure, the pair boarded the Spirit of France hand in hand at 9.20pm before arriving in Calais in the middle of the night.
They ended up in Bordeaux where Forrest and the girl dyed their hair, he set up a French email account and bought a French mobile phone, and bogus CVs were drafted, the court has heard.
Forrest used the alias Jack Francis Dean and the girl also gave herself a false name on the fake CVs in an effort to land employment while on the run, prosecutors have said.
Today jurors heard their disappearance came seven months after Scots-born Forrest was warned by colleagues to keep his distance from the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The alert was made after some students claimed Forrest had shown favouritism to the girl during a half-term school trip to Los Angeles in February last year, the jury was told.
Teacher Emma Tremaman, who organised the trip, said the girl had avoided sanction for alleged misbehaviour after Forrest intervened, saying she had not been involved.
She said: “There were a group of girls that were complaining about (the girl) being let off and this is when some of the students claimed that she was always being let off and that she had a crush on Jeremy.”
Ms Tremaman, who taught ICT and business, said she spoke to Forrest at the end of the trip amid concern that the rumours could damage his career.
She said: “At the end of the holiday there was an incident where Jeremy and myself were sat in the car park and I did mention to him the concerns a couple of the students had been saying.”
She added: “He just thanked me.”
Neil Pittman, who was head of upper school at Bishop Bell, said two pupils came to visit him following the LA trip voicing concerns about what the girl was saying about Forrest.
He said: “Their concerns were that (the girl) was speaking to other pupils about the fact that she liked Mr Forrest and the pupils were concerned that that sort of conversation might be damaging to Mr Forrest, and that he might get a reputation from these comments.”
The pupils told Mr Pittman that the girl had said she enjoyed seeing Mr Forrest in his swimming trunks and that she had “felt special” when he lent her his cardigan to keep warm.
Speaking of the pupils who approached him, Mr Pittman said: “I felt it was a very mature response.”
Mr Pittman said he approached Forrest about the rumours the girl had “a crush” on him and he replied that he knew.
‘Keep a distance’
He told the court: “His reaction was that he had heard. He wasn’t completely surprised. I offered him some advice. I advised him to do two things.
“One was to keep a distance from the pupil by not being too friendly, too familiar. I told him that would be a sensible thing to do.
“And the second thing I advised was to keep it out in the open, to talk about it to his senior staff. In other words, to say that he was aware of what was being heard and said.
“He seemed to think it was a good idea.”
The following week, Mr Pittman spoke to the girl’s mother to explain there was gossip that her daughter fancied Forrest.
“She told me that she was aware of it and it was probably no more than a teenage crush,” Mr Pittman said.
At a later point, Mr Pittman said he spotted Forrest engaged in “jovial conversation” with the girl at the school gate, despite his earlier advice to keep his distance.
“Nothing unusual apart from that I had previously said a bit of distance might be sensible,” he said. “On this occasion, a little bit more distance would have been sensible.”
The school’s deputy headteacher, Mark Talbot, met Forrest on March 30 amid further concerns that he was not heeding advice to steer clear of the girl.
Mr Talbot spoke to Forrest about the gossip and told him to make sure he was not alone with the girl to avoid putting himself in a vulnerable position, and to keep his door open.
He said: “He seemed frustrated that the rumours were going around but he seemed very clear to me that there was nothing going on, in his words.”
Mr Talbot added: “He was frustrated by the fact that I was having the conversation with him because other people had previously had the conversation with him.
“He seemed clear about what I was saying in terms of the guidance and I was reassured by what he was saying to me, that he was very clear of his professional boundaries and what he needed to follow.”
After the Easter holidays, Mr Talbot spoke to Forrest again and said he appeared “very positive” after a holiday. They agreed that Ms Bobela would speak to the girl.
Mr Talbot said: “He spoke to me at that point about his relationship with his wife, which he described as not good and indeed abusive, are the words he used. At that meeting I offered him support.
“I said ‘I can put you in touch with some of our helplines or our personnel manager’, which he said he didn’t want to take up, and following that meeting I brought Mr Forrest up at our senior leaders’ meeting.”
Mr Talbot said the girl was not “hanging around” his classroom quite so much. After being confronted about persisting rumours in July, Ms Bobela said Forrest told her they were not true.
Asked by defence counsel Ronald Jaffa about what he meant when he said “Why was she telling these lies?”, she said: “He meant (the girl) talking about what wasn’t true, and why was she doing this to him.”
Forrest had offered to phone the girl’s mother, which left Ms Bobela “quite stunned”, the court heard.
The court also heard from Alison Cummins, the owner of the HMS Victory bar in Bordeaux where Forrest applied to work using his bogus CV. After reading a report of the disappearance she telephoned Sussex Police and sent them a picture of the CV Forrest had handed her.
She was asked to cancel her plans to travel to England and police requested her to invite Forrest to the bar. Later Ms Cummins received a phone call saying that Forrest had been arrested.
Forrest, of Chislehurst Road, Petts Wood, Kent, denies child abduction. The case was adjourned to 11am on Monday when the girl is expected to give evidence.