It is not immediately clear why it took eight days of legal argument, at Lewes Crown Court, to convict Jeremy Forrest of child abduction.
Forrest, a teacher at Bishop Bell Church of England School in Eastbourne, is 30 years old. He ran away to France with one of his pupils, a 15-year-old. For some months prior to their flight, the couple had been having a sexual relationship.
“Teacher”, “pupil”, “underage sex”. It takes a rare kind of mind to construct an extenuating argument from these elements, yet Forrest clearly thought it was worth his time and taxpayers’ money to enter a “Not Guilty” plea.
I suppose you have to give the defence marks for trying. Much was made – in court and out of it – of the argument that in every sense (except the literal and, finally, incriminating sense) the girl was “in the driving seat”.
She had instigated the affair. She was running away to France anyway and Forrest was just going along to look after her. The girl’s history of mental instability – self-harming, suicide threats – had him over a barrel. He was only doing the responsible thing.
Incredibly, it didn’t appear to strike Forrest that this history of instability would substantially increase the anguish of the girl’s parents when she went missing for eight days, triggering the kind of high-adrenalin Interpol search which doubtless in the fullness of time – I’d give it six months – will be made into an affecting drama.
All the highlights are already scripted – the courtroom collapse of Forrest’s father, the tearful “I’m sorry” from the former pupil as the prisoner leaves the dock.
Most compelling of all – at least to teenagers if not, mercifully, to most 30-year-olds – is the narrative of “forbidden love”.
The 1968 hit “Young Girl, Get Out of My Mind”, with its grim “What’s a guy to do?” lyrics (“Beneath your perfume and your make-up, You’re just a baby in disguise ... Better run, girl. You’re much too young, girl”) wouldn’t get airplay in post-Savile Britain. But the melody and the message – each as horribly insistent as the other – linger on.
Sex with a minor is not a new crime. Unfortunately, this lends the whole subject a spurious relativism. Look at Shakespeare’s Juliet, just 13 years old and meeting boys in tombs. The age of consent is perhaps debatable, professional ethics not. Romeo was not Juliet’s teacher.
We expect girls to have crushes on teachers. It’s what teenagers do. And we have the absolute right to expect teachers not to take advantage. There is no “human drama” in the Jeremy Forrest case, just the same, sad old story of opportunistic and self-justifying gratification. It fools no one.