Eastbourne schoolteacher Jeremy Forrest was today (June 21) sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.
Forrest, a 30-year-old married man, stood trial for eight days at Lewes Crown Court after denying one count of child abduction of a 15-year-old pupil at Bishop Bell School where he taught.
In a further twist to the case this morning, he also pleaded guilty to five charges of sexual activity with a child.
The maths teacher fled to France with the girl in September last year when he was finally arrested in Bordeaux and extradited back to England. He was not charged with sex offences for legal reasons linked to his extradition. However Forest admitted those offences in court today, minutes after being charged with them.
The jury of eight men and four women took around two hours to come to their unanimous guilty verdict.
The teenage girl, who previously told the court she was ‘in love’ with Forrest and went to France with him willingly back in September last year, was visibly upset at the verdict and cried in the packed court room.
Her mother sat on the opposite side of the court. The teacher mouthed “I love you” to the pupil when he was convicted of the charge yesterday afternoon.
This lunchtime, Judge Michael Lawson told Forrest he would spend five-and-a-half years in jail after “ignoring the cardinal rule of teaching”. Forrest was also banned from working with children, paid or voluntary, for life.
The judge told him, “I see nothing in the evidence which shows that at any stage you tried to provide proper boundaries between yourself and her. All the evidence shows you encouraged her infatuation and provided opportunity for her to be in contact with you and alone with you.
“You were active in driving that relationship forward.”
Judge Lawson said he had lied to everyone, including the girl’s mother and his fellow teachers. He said, “You even complained the rumours circulating were lies by the girl.”
He said that Forrest had “even deceived the girl by lying about your marriage”.
As Forrest was sent down, he held out his hand to his sister before he was led down to the cells.
Forrest, who wore a suit as he has throughout the trial, mouthed ‘love you’ to his teenage lover as he was found guilty yesterday (June 20). She mouthed back ‘I’m sorry’ as he was led back down to the cells.
Today, before sentencing, a victim impact statement by the girl’s mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was also read to the court by prosecutor Richard Barton.
The mother sobbed quietly from the public gallery as the victim impact statement was read to the court. Her daughter was not there to hear the statement.
The statement said, “I feel like a part of the girl’s childhood has been robbed from me. Her last day at school, getting her a party dress and seeing her off to a prom has all been taken from me.
“My relationship with my daughter will never be the same again. The daughter I knew has died and I am grieving for her, and this upsets me beyond words.”
Prosecutor Richard Barton explained that the mother currently no longer has contact with her daughter, who is now living with with her step-father in Eastbourne.
Defence lawyer Ronald Jaffa said only a jail term was appropriate for the serious offences and he did not seek to excuse what happened but place them in context.
The court heard Forrest, a gifted teacher who gave vibrant and interesting classes, had been in an unhappy marriage and had sought medical help for depression.
Mr Jaffa said Forrest’s caring attitude led to the girl to ask him for help with a number of issues and he later realised she had a crush on him.
And he added: “He unfortunately fell in love and crossed the line at a time when he was in a very low position and depressed.”
Forrest abducted the school girl on September 20 last year after he thought their sexual relationship was about to be discovered. The pair boarded a ferry Dover to Calais that eveing and spent eight days on the run.
Their disappearance sparked massive press attention and a cross-channel manhunt.
A European arrest warrant was issued for Forrest September 25.
They were found, hand in hand in a Bordeaux street on September 28 at 12.15pm, after Forrest dropped his CV into a bar in Bordeaux, calling himself Jack Dean. The British bar manager recognised Forrest’s CV photo from the countless internet stories and contacted the police.
Forrest was extradited from France on October 10 and charged with child abduction.
During the eight-day trial, the prosecution described Forrest as a paedophile who groomed a vulnerable girl at the Eastbourne school.
Forrest gave no evidence in his defence during the eight-day trial when the court heard statements from the mother of the teenager saying she felt like “the worst mother in the world”.
She said: “Someone got my child and I never saw it coming or saw it while it was happening.”
An investigation has now been launched by East Sussex’s Safeguarding Children’s Board into what happened between Forrest and the schoolgirl.