Jeremy Forrest pupil abduction school 'failed to see misconduct'

CCTV images of the couple holding hands on board the ferry to Calais Image copyright Kent Police
Image caption Jeremy Forrest took the 15-year-old pupil to France after the pair began a sexual relationship

A teacher, who abducted and had sex with a pupil, worked at a school that repeatedly failed to see evidence of his misconduct, a report has found.

Jeremy Forrest, 32, a teacher at Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, was jailed in June after grooming the 15-year-old girl and taking her to France.

The serious case review said there was a tendency to ignore children and not think a teacher could be an abuser.

The review also criticised Sussex Police and the county council.

Terry Boatwright, the head teacher at Bishop Bell C of E School, 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."

He said the school had been working hard to address the concerns highlighted by the serious case review as well as two independent reviews carried out at the school's request.

The school has implemented new child protection procedures and staff and governors have received additional training, Mr Boatwright said.

Concerns 'repeatedly dismissed'

Concerns had been raised about the relationship between Forrest and the pupil following a school trip to Los Angeles in February 2012.

The pair had been seen holding hands on a plane, while the girl was 14 years old.

In June 2012, the teacher and pupil began a sexual relationship, around the time of the girl's 15th birthday.

On 19 September 2012 a police officer and social worker went to the teenager's home and spoke to her mother.

The following day Forrest and the schoolgirl boarded a ferry to France and they eluded police until being spotted just over a week later.

The review by the East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board found concerns raised by other children at the school were "repeatedly dismissed".

Image copyright Gareth Fuller/PA
Image caption Jeremy Forrest was jailed for five-and-a-half years

"Agencies, and particularly the school, were too ready to dismiss the reports received from other children," the report concluded.

"There was, in the school, a sort of 'default position' of intuitively supporting a colleague with a corresponding reluctance to believe that the colleague might be an abuser."

The review said the school had also failed to talk to the schoolgirl "in a way that was supportive".

The school received further criticism for not involving her mother and so denying her the opportunity to assist her daughter.

'There were weaknesses'

Sussex Police were also criticised, with the board saying initial inquiries should have been handled by the child protection team.

"The subsequent interviews did not comply with procedural requirements and [the child] and her mother were not seen separately," the report said.

Det Supt Paul Furnell, from Sussex Police, said an audit would be carried out to determine if child protection officers should carry out the first response to allegations made against people working with children.

He added: "This will enable a decision to be made whether to amend the child protection policy."

The board said: "[East Sussex County Council] children's social care services may have ended their involvement too speedily and... there were weaknesses in how agencies recorded information - in spite of guidance provided by the local authority."

Cathie Pattison, chairman of the safeguarding children board, said: "The purpose of any serious case review is to identify what lessons can be learned about the way professionals and organisations work individually and together to safeguard children.

"This review has done exactly that and provides a good basis for improving practice and processes. The lessons for the school in this case are actually lessons for all schools to take note of."

School's response 'inexcusable'

Edward Timpson, the Children and Families Minister, has written to East Sussex County Council expressing concerns over the failures at the school.

He wrote: "For a school so comprehensively to fail to protect a vulnerable teenager from a manipulative adult, who has been placed by the school in a position of trust, is an abrogation of leadership and responsibility.

"The way that school leaders dismissed warnings made by young people about an improper relationship, and the failure to provide any effective support to the child, is inexcusable.

"It is important that students and parents can be confident that those failures have been addressed and all necessary action taken."

The council said it accepted there were failings but it had acted to address the concerns raised in the review.

Ged Rowney, interim director of children's services, said: "We are confident we have the right safeguarding procedures and partnerships in place, but we accept the review's findings that there were some weaknesses in how some processes were followed."

In June, Forrest was jailed for five-and-a-half years for abduction and having sex with the 15-year-old pupil.

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Media captionThe Serious Case Review revealed pupils' concerns about the relationship were ignored by teachers

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