This could have been avoided – Linda Colling on missing schoolgirl Megan Stammers and maths teacher Jeremy Forrest

Megan Stammers
Megan Stammers
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I FELT sick to my stomach that she could have been groomed for so long. Seven months is a long time. You would think schools would be on top of things like this.”

Any mother plunged into this nightmare would say the same words as distraught Danielle Wilson, whose 15-year-old daughter Megan, has now been on the run for a week with Jeremy Forrest, her 30-year-old married maths teacher.

She has every right to question why she, and her husband, were not told by the Bishop Bell C of E school in Eastbourne it had been “investigating concerns” into the relationship between her daughter and Forrest.

This girl’s mother should have been privy to what the school knew and long before last week that Forrest was set to be suspended.

The pair reportedly vanished the day before that suspension with Forrest doing a runner with a girl half his age. Would she still be at home instead of on the run somewhere in Europe, if her mother had known?

Would things ever have reached this pitch if she had found out seven months ago that Megan’s classmate had raised her concerns to a teacher after seeing him and Megan holding hands on the plane back from a school trip to Los Angeles?

Maybe Megan would still have found a way to run away with the man who she believes has stolen her heart away. After all, there’s no stopping impressionable teenagers, especially those who think themselves in love and are caught up in the drama, adventure and forbidden fruit of it all.

Surely schools have a duty to inform parents if they are concerned for the wellbeing of a child? Apparently not if they are carrying out investigations.

Last week those investigations had reached a significant juncture with Forrest in line for suspension. But still silence prevailed. And now an East Sussex County Council spokesman has said: “Because the investigations are ongoing we are not going to comment in detail. However the school and the county council had been addressing and investigating concerns that had been raised, in line with procedure, when this happened.”

Such procedure needs investigating and thoroughly overhauling. And parents at this school for scandal, where more underage grooming and sex offences against children has come to light, are now demanding an inquiry into its child protection procedures.

This comprehensive with a Christian ethos, was engulfed in a scandal three years ago when teacher Robert Healy, 27, was jailed for seven years in 2009 after admitting grooming and sleeping with two girls aged 15 and 16.

Then, it apparently kept on its board of governors Canon Gordon Rideoutt, 73, for more than a year as chairman, after the Church of England suspended him in 2010 after claims of child sex abuse against him came to light.

He finally left his position at the school this year and was later charged with 38 sexual offences against 18 children and young teenagers, which allegedly happened between 1962 and 1973 before he was involved at Bishop Bell. He is expected to stand trial next month.

When we send our children to school we expect them to be safe not exposed to danger.

Teachers are in the very profession of having pupil’s welfare uppermost. They are in loco parentis, but surely that does not give any school the right to withold from parents crucial information about a child they have serious concerns for.

Schools are quick to control the taking of pictures of children by reputable members of the press and send children home for not complying to uniform policy, but when a member of staff is under investigation, it seems the parents of any endangered child are left in the dark.

It’s the way of the world – keep mum, keep it under wraps and hope no one finds out.

That’s the way so many organisations seem to be operating.

It’s galling that this school kept Megan’s mother in ignorance as they pursued their investigations. Who was the most important person here to be considered? The child. But, if such procedural practices are in place, then others too like Megan will be failed. It is to their detriment and seemingly can and does work against them.

This school has been accused of going to “extraordinary lengths” to avoid revealing its child protection policy, which most schools put on their website as a matter of course.

What did this school have to hide is the question posed by Lucy Duckworth from the campaign group See Change, who contacted the school in March asking to see the policy as part of a general survey of schools in the area that had not already put it online.

When staff refused she made a formal freedom of information request to see it, but received a 700-word email from headmaster Terry Boatwright, insisting that the school was exempt from both revealing the policy or even saying whether it had such a policy.

Miss Duckworth said: “Almost every other school I spoke to was happy to provide the information when I explained the reasons, but this school was particularly unhelpful.

“They simply freaked out when I asked them and were extraordinarily obstructive. I did not know what they had to hide.”

Everyone involved in this “investigation” should hang their heads in shame and ask themselves how they would feel tonight if their 15-year-old had eloped with a married man twice her age, and they had a clear passage out of this country because they were never given the opportunity to have the chance to intervene.

And all because a veil was drawn over the scandal from the mother, ignorant of her daughter’s illicit involvment with a teacher, which worryingly is far from over yet.

Naked ambition of fundraisers

WHAT a brave bunch.

Not just because they braved the breakers plunging into Druridge Bay into the altogether, but all those who did so together with their friends.

Imagine what guts it takes to let your pals, no matter how well you know them, see you naked.

I take everything off (in private of course) to every one of the 200 souls who skinnydipped in answer to Whitburn paramedic Jackie Higginson’s call to help her break the world record, and raise some £2,000 for mental health charity Mind.

What a beautiful sight, couples, kids, all shapes and sizes, some hand in hand, all ages running with gay abandon, regardelsss of whatever wobbly bits wobblied, however big their beer bellies and how perfect or not they are.

They were a perfect picture and this was a perfect way to greet the autumn equinox too and it was all so memorable I have every confidence that next year the turnout will be bigger and better – in every way and be a record breaker.

What a hoot that Whitburn world record pantsman Gary Craig, 53, who made it into the Guineess Book of Records for wearing 302 pairs was there too.

He wore no pants of course, and the architect who has twice held the record told me: “It was absolutely fantastic, unusual and enjoyable.”

Jackie, 34, reckoned it was really, really special. Just like everyone who turned up. Anyone who wants to show their support can go to justgiving.com\northeastskinnydip

In contrast to this euphoric shedding of their clothes, a storm erupted at the sight of nudity from parents after a public swimming pool hosted a children’s birthday party at the same time as a nudist swimming session.

I couldn’t help laugh at the idea of parents standing in-between cracks in the bin bags staff at the pool in Radcliffe, Lancashire, had plastered over the canteen window in an attempt to block the view.

I bet the kids at the seven-year-old’s party wouldn’t have batted an eyelid even if they had spotted the 20 male nude swimmers who followed them into the pool.

The staff forgot the party was following and the nudists would be visible.

How easily some parents get their knickers in a twist and make a hue and cry when on this occasion they could and should have just turned a blind eye instead of putting their backs to any windows and going up the wall.

Here... have all my details

WHAT madness to circulate at a bash at Seaham Hall the other day a leaflet for a silent auction in aid of Cauldwell Children charity, inviting us to make a bid by filling out our name, mobile, credit card details, expiry date, security code and our signature.

Whoever conceived this?

Up for auction to help the charity improve the lives of sick and disabled children throughout the UK, were holidays and pampering expeiences worth thousands with certain packages calling for minimum bids of £5,000.

I would have to be crazy to leave all those details and risk someone having an out-of-this world experience at my expense.

No danger there, I don’t have that kind of lolly.

No matter that it stated: “If you are not successful your credit card details will be destroyed”. Reassuring, I don’t think – divulge them at your peril.

The Axe: The Colling hitlist

LET the axe fall on The Cavern, once known as The Corner House on the corner of Sans Street and one of the many eyesores on the southern radial route.