School staff missed repeated opportunities to blow the whistle on inappropriate conduct between Scottish teacher Jeremy Forrest and a teenage schoolgirl before he abducted her, a damning review has found.
Concerns 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.
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.
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, originally from Aberdeenshire, 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 had 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.”
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: “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.
Another 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.
Terry Boatwright, executive headteacher at Bishop Bell C of E School, apologised for the failings and said they had been working hard to address the issues.