Married maths teacher was warned over school girl months before they disappeared
A MARRIED teacher was warned by colleagues to keep his distance from one of his pupils seven months before he allegedly abducted her to France, a jury was told today.
Gossip had been circulating among pupils at Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, East Sussex, that the schoolgirl had a crush on 30-year-old maths teacher Jeremy Forrest.
Lewes Crown Court heard that some students claimed Forrest had shown favouritism to the girl during a half-term school trip to Los Angeles in February last year.
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 trip amid concern that the rumours could damage his career.
"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."
Forrest had also disclosed to her that he was not looking forward to returning home and that, as he said he loved his wife, he became "quite upset".
Jurors also heard that, before the LA excursion, rumours had circulated among staff about problems Forrest was having at home, with suggestions that he had been sleeping in his car and that he might go to LA.
The trip took place seven months before Forrest and the girl fled to France. Police were alerted to their relationship, which had later turned sexual, following a tip-off.
When an officer and a social worker visited the girl's home to speak to her about what was going on, the pair decided to flee the next day.
During the visit, the girl's mother had given police permission to seize and analyse her mobile phone on which text messages and pictures exchanged between the pair were stored.
In a video-taped interview with police, the girl said she "panicked" when the authorities began to get involved and feared her mother's response to finding out.
Prosecutor Richard Barton has said that, knowing their relationship was about to be exposed, Forrest booked them on a cross-Channel ferry from Dover to Calais on September 20 last year.
CCTV caught them boarding the Spirit of France hand in hand at 9.20pm that evening before they arrived in Calais in the middle of the night and spent seven days on the run.
Forrest and the girl dyed their hair to try to avoid detection, he set up a French email account and bought a French mobile phone, and bogus CVs were drafted to help land them work, the court has heard.
Forrest used the alias Jack Dean and the girl also gave herself a bogus name on the false CVs in an effort to land employment while on the run, Mr Barton has said.
But an English bar owner to whom Forrest had applied for work recognised the pair from media reports, leading to them eventually being caught in the south-western port city of Bordeaux on September 28 last year.
Scots-born Forrest, of Chislehurst Road, Petts Wood, Kent, denies child abduction.
The court heard that police had halted their investigation into Forrest's relationship with the girl the day before they disappeared after finding "no evidence" on her mobile phone.
Alicja Bobela, the assistant head with responsibilities for child protection matters, spoke to police on September 20 following the visit by officers.
She 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."
After being confronted about the 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".
Neil Pittman, who was head of upper school at Bishop Bell, said two pupils came to visit him following the LA trip in February voicing concerns about what the girl was saying about Forrest.
He said: "Two pupils who had been on the trip to LA came to visit me, and they spoke to me and said they had some concerns.
"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.
"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 had a crush on 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 after class, 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 concerns that he was not heeding advice to keep his distance from the girl.
Mr Talbot spoke to Forrest about the rumours 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 their conversation did touch on the girl and it was noted that she was not "hanging around" his classroom quite so much.
The court also heard from Alison Cummins, the owner of the HMS Victory bar in Bordeaux where Forrest applied to work using a bogus CV under the name Jack Francis Dean.
In a statement, Ms Cummins told how she mocked Forrest "in a jovial way" because of the picture he used on his CV, but said he seemed "nice".
As he left, she said: "I thought nothing else of the man."
The following day, Ms Cummins saw Forrest wearing a black T-shirt and carrying a guitar case on his back.
With him was a girl who had dyed black hair and was wearing a low-cut top. Ms Cummins said the girl looked 21 or 22 and Forrest 26 or 27.
"She seemed familiar to me but at this point I didn't recognise where from," she said.
The next day, September 27, Ms Cummins logged on to the Guardian website and saw a report of the disappearance of Forrest and the girl.
"I looked at the Guardian website and saw the picture of the girl. She looked very familiar and I thought she was the girl I had seen the day before."
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 into the bar.
Later Ms Cummins received a phone call saying that Forrest had been arrested.
The case was adjourned to 11am on Monday when the girl is expected to give evidence.