England

Megan Stammers: Bishop Bell School under fire over record

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Media captionFormer supt Roger Gray says modern technology may help police track Megan

The school of missing Megan Stammers has come under fire from a charity over its safeguarding record.

Megan, 15, who goes to Bishop Bell C of E School, in Eastbourne, and teacher Jeremy Forrest, 30, took a ferry from Dover to Calais, on Thursday.

In 2009, a teacher from the school was jailed for grooming pupils and in March it emerged a retired priest had been allowed to remain as a governor despite child sex allegations against him.

The school has defended its record.

East Sussex County Council and bosses at the school have both confirmed they were investigating the pair's relationship before they disappeared.

And Lucy Duckworth, from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said she has had concerns for some time over the school's safeguarding policy.

"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," she said.

'Predatory behaviour'

However, Terry Boatwright, executive head teacher at the school, said: "Bishop Bell School has a robust safeguarding policy in place, takes safeguarding very seriously and the effectiveness of its safeguarding procedures is rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted."

It has been confirmed Sussex Police were made aware of concerns over a relationship between the missing schoolgirl and her maths teacher Mr Forrest, an amateur musician from Ringmer, near Lewes, last week.

The force has now released CCTV images of the pair holding hands on a ferry from Dover to Calais at 21:30 BST on Thursday.

It has refused to deny whether it had received reports about the pair before they left the UK.

Their disappearance comes three years after Robert Healy, who was a PE teacher at the school, was jailed for seven years after grooming two pupils on social networking site Bebo.

He had sex three or four times with one teenage victim and then started a second relationship with a slightly older girl from the same school.

Jailing him at Lewes Crown Court in 2009, Judge Charles Kemp said Healy's "predatory" behaviour was a "grave breach of trust".

And it emerged in March that the school allowed a retired Church of England priest who was suspended from the church following a Criminal Records Bureau check to remain as a governor, despite being aware of the child sex allegations against him.

Canon Gordon Rideout, 73, has been charged with committing 38 offences over an 11-year period between 1962 and 1973. He stood as a governor until November 2011.

He is due to stand trial at Lewes Crown Court on 19 October.

Image caption Megan and Jeremy Forrest are thought to be travelling in his car

Regarding Megan and Mr Forrest's disappearance, East Sussex County Council said it had been "addressing and investigating concerns" about them when they left the country.

The French authorities have been involved in the search for the pair, although it is not clear if they even remain in France.

'Want you home'

Referring to the CCTV images, Ch Insp Jason Tingley said: "We are releasing this photo to show Megan and Jeremy's appearance at the time they travelled to France as we believe it will improve the public's ability to recognise the pair together.

"Although they entered France, it is possible that they are elsewhere now. Therefore our objectives are to identify where they are and for them to contact us, so we can bring Megan home safely."

Earlier, he told BBC Radio 4's Today her friends might have information about their disappearance.

He said children, pupils or friends "may be aware of where they were likely to go to so I would also ask them to come forward, and don't be scared, and don't feel you're in trouble if you've not disclosed any of that information so far".

Mr Tingley also revealed it had appeared one of Megan's friends had received a message saying she had arrived in France.

The message was not sent from Megan's phone, police said.

Appealing to her daughter at a news conference on Monday, Megan's mother Danielle Wilson said: "Sweetheart, I don't care what you've done or why, I just want you home."

Ms Wilson has revealed Megan had been receiving extra-curricular maths lessons since before the summer, but the family did not suspect there was any relationship between her and Mr Forrest.

Megan's stepfather Martin Stammers said he was "aware" of Mr Forrest but did not go into further detail.

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