Lisa Markwell: One crazy fling, two lives blighted

This case will resonate with those who have read 'Notes on a Scandal'
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The Independent Online

Some people clearly found details amusing in the case of music teacher Helen Goddard and her sexual relationship with a female pupil. Like the fact that she was the "trumpet mistress", for instance. Fnarr, fnarr.

The breathless language the case prompted is itself laughable. "She whisked girl off to Paris" (why does no one ever just get taken to Paris, only ever whisked?) More unpleasantly and insidiously, one report had Ms Goddard as "a slim blonde who faced the court in a tight blouse..." when what I saw was a terrified young woman with the drawn face and skeletal arms of someone unable to keep food down.

The case resonates with anyone who has read or seen Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller's dark tale of a female teacher's illicit affair with a 15-year-old pupil (the difference, of course, being that the pupil was a boy and somehow deemed less vulnerable). Adults who, through deceit or pure idiocy, form a relationship with an underage partner cannot expect anything other than scandal, disgrace and criminality as a result.

But what of the pupil? Fifteen years old today is not what it was when we were young – and, as a child of the 1970s, I know we were getting up to all sorts while underage back then. No doubt, and I am sorry that this sounds brutal to the girl's parents and others, many of her classmates are already sexually active, so the idea of "falling in love" and making love with someone older and seemingly more sophisticated is just not that big a deal.

I think it is the lesbian aspect that most find unsettling. Older female teacher with adolescent boy is a surprising rather than shocking dynamic: a friend was slightly alarmed at parents evening to see her 12-year-old son's form teacher with acres of cleavage on display. And there are plenty of twentysomething men with teenage girlfriends out there (or remember when David Walliams, 37, was walking out with an 18-year-old?). I've seen a certain cheeky gay comedian on a date with a boy so young he still lived at home with daddy, and no one blinked an eye.

But these girls? (I'm calling Goddard a girl because, at 26, she still is one.) Well, it's less usual, less understandable, to the vanilla tastes of most of the nation. I stop short of feeling sorry for the teacher, but as the result of a coup de foudre (since she'd never had a lesbian relationship before) her entire life is now blighted.

As may be the girl's. She will be 16 – and legally allowed to have sex – at the end of September. She also loses the right to anonymity on the same day. She and Ms Goddard hope to revive their relationship in 15 months' time. If the girl is waiting at the prison gates, so will the long lenses.

It won't last of course. Teenagers are notoriously fickle and first love rarely makes it past university. That is what the girl's parents must think of while accepting that their little girl wants to make her own decisions.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to read the reviews – whether they are fnarr, fnarr or hand-wringing – of an unnervingly prescient film called Cracks coming out in December, about the intense relationship between an enigmatic female swimming teacher at an all-girls school and her favourite pupil...