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15-year-old British schoolgirl Megan Stammers, reported missing on 21 September, was located by French authorities this Friday strolling arm in arm with lover Jeremy Forrest, her 30-year-old married math teacher. The unwitting pair were traipsing the Rue Sainte-Catherine, Bordeaux’s prime shopping district, when they were apprehended at 11:15pm French time. Their brewing, months-long romance was evidenced over Twitter, fervent text messages to one another and fellow students’ testimonies after the two had been spotted holding hands on the flight home from a school trip to Los Angeles in February.
“I just want to runaway forever,” Megan had tweeted in late June.
“Me & you Let’s just run away,” Forrest had responded. And on July 1: “I want to go everywhere with you baby; for the record you never look anything less than absolutely beautiful.”
According to the Daily Mail, Megan had used her 37-year-old mother’s passport to make the ferry crossing from the UK to France incognito. A distraught Megan was taken into protective custody; meanwhile, Mr. Forrest, an amateur musician who taught at the Bishop Bell School in Eastbourne, UK, has been arrested for “the taking of a minor against her parents’ will,” French judicial authorities confirm.
Megan’s parents rally for her return
Megan’s parents reported her missing when she failed to appear at school last Friday. As Sussex Police scoured for clues to Megan’s whereabouts, a CCTV recording surfaced showing Megan and Mr. Forrest holding hands while boarding a ferry destined from Dover to Calais at 9:20pm BST on Thursday.
“Megan was last seen wearing a white vest top and a silver necklace,” said a post on her website, www.meganstammers.com, which her panic-stricken parents had dedicated to her search. The CCTV images were released to the French Missing Persons Bureau and circulated in European media. A dedicated Twitter and Facebook account was also set up, garnering followers in the thousands. Another to-watch signpost was Forrest’s black Ford Fiesta, which the fugitive duo were said to have boarded the ferry with.
Four witnesses had reported sighting the illicit couple this week, the most recent tip-off coming 48 hours prior to their apprehension. Forrest, it was revealed, had been seeking job vacancies at bars in the days before his arrest. Aside from a single text message to a friend last Friday, informing that she and Forrest had reached France safely, Megan had remained silent in the face of her and even Forrest’s parents’ desperate appeals for them to come home. Forrest’s job-seeking further indicates that the pair had every intention of starting a new life in France as a couple.
The allegations of their hand-holding during a school trip came just three months shy of Forrest’s first wedding anniversary to wife Emily Forrest, who has kept silent regarding the debacle. On 27 September, two days before his arrest, her runaway husband updated his Facebook relationship status from “Married” to “It’s complicated”.
Though there has been no evidence of a sexual liaison, one of Megan’s peers confided to the Daily Mail: “They would always text each other. He would send her messages saying things like ‘I miss you’ and ‘I can’t wait to hug you’. She would tweet about being in love and show us his texts.”
The impact on child protection
Bishop Bell’s staff had long been cognizant of the budding teacher-pupil romance, and child protection campaigner Lucy Duckworth from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood had written the school several times, requesting to see its child protection policy. The reception, she said, was “extremely hostile.” What’s more, the school had not informed Megan’s parents of the county council’s ongoing investigations into their daughter’s relationship with a man twice her age before her disappearance.
Child protection campaigners have called for the suspension of Bishop Bell’s head teacher, Terry Boatwright, for failing to act when fellow students first reported Megan’s out-of-line relations with her math teacher. “Policies are still not in place to foster a culture where safeguarding is a priority – as it should be in any institution where adults act in loco parentis,” Duckworth told the BBC.
An unapologetic Boatwright insists, “Bishop Bell School has a robust safeguarding policy in place,” citing its “outstanding” rating by Ofsted, the UK’s official government body for school inspection.
Too relieved to leave room for fury, Megan’s birth father, Barry Wratten, 41, said in a statement, “The past week has been absolutely terrible. I’m not angry with her at all – we all do silly things when we are young without thinking about the consequences.”
Megan flew home to the UK on Saturday afternoon to her overjoyed parents.
Image Courtesy of MeganStammers.com