Sussex

Jeremy Forrest case: 'Sack pupil abduction' head teacher

Bishop Bell C of E School, Eastbourne
Image caption Forrest, another teacher and a chair of governors at Bishop Bell committed offences against children

As teacher Jeremy Forrest became the third person involved with a Sussex school to be found guilty of offences against children, there have been calls for the head teacher to be sacked.

Forrest, a maths teacher at Bishop Bell Church of England School in Eastbourne, has been found guilty of abducting a pupil and taking her to France last September.

The court heard he and the teenager had formed a relationship.

The school had warned him about his conduct seven months before he abducted her, when she was 15, but the relationship continued, the jury was told.

But Forrest is not the first person from Bishop Bell to abuse their position.

'Firm advice'

A child protection policy had been put in place at the school when Canon Gordon Rideout was the chair of the board of governors.

Last month Rideout was jailed for 10 years for abusing children in the 1960s and 1970s.

Image caption Forrest and the teenager were spotted by CCTV cameras on a ferry walking hand-in-hand

He was found guilty at Lewes Crown Court - the same court as Forrest - of 36 separate sex offences. Most of them were carried out at Ifield children's home in Crawley.

Rideout had been suspended by the Church of England following a Criminal Records Bureau check, but was allowed to remain a governor despite the school being aware of child sex allegations against him.

In 2009, a PE teacher at the school, Robert Healy, was sent to prison for seven years for starting a sexual relationship with two pupils after grooming them online.

During the Forrest trial, it emerged teachers and senior staff at Bishop Bell had spoken to him on at least seven occasions between February and July 2012.

In a formal meeting, the teacher was given "clear and firm advice not to encourage" the girl. He had denied he and the schoolgirl were having a relationship.

'Take the bullet'

Child abuse campaigner Marilyn Hawes, from Enough Abuse UK, said the authorities had not acted on the earlier warning signs.

She said the head teacher of Bishop Bell, Terry Boatwright, should be sacked.

"If you are not going to spend time finding out properly what your minions are doing, then you should take the bullet.

"He runs the school and calls the shots, and he can't get away from that.

"She was a 14 and 15-year-old girl," she said.

"Someone needs to say, 'I got it wrong, I apologise, I'm sorry, I should have been more diligent'."

Mr Boatwright said the school had "no evidence of a relationship" and the matter was investigated according to the school's child protection procedures.

He said: "Prior to the events of September 2012 and the formal child protection investigation that took place then, the school had investigated reported concerns, involving the local authority at the appropriate points and following its advice.

"At no point did the school find evidence of a relationship and at no point did the reported concerns reach the threshold to involve the police formally."

Misconduct investigation

He said the police had become informally involved in September when "further, and more serious concerns" were raised.

"Even then, having that information and after investigating more serious concerns than the school had received, the police informed the school that they too had found no evidence to support arresting Mr Forrest and handed the matter back to the school," Mr Boatwright said.

He said the school intended to carry out a further investigation into professional misconduct, but Forrest never returned to work after 19 September.

Image caption Jeremy Forrest had denied abducting the schoolgirl

A safeguarding review published in April "did not find evidence of any significant or systemic failings in safeguarding" at Bishop Bell School.

An Ofsted inspection in November 2012 found the overall effectiveness of the school to be "good" and the behaviour and safety of the pupils was "good".

Chris Mills, a child protection specialist, said: "I think the school acted appropriately according to the procedures and involved the police and the local authorities at an early stage.

"The question that remains to be asked is 'could different conclusions have been reached at an earlier stage?'.

"If there is any reasonable evidence that a teacher has inappropriate contact then the school needs to take action to protect the child or any other children, as soon as there is any reasonable suspicion.

"I think the school followed the procedures, but following the procedures doesn't always mean you'll get the right answers."

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