Has the press misjudged the nation over Jeremy Forrest affair?

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Do newspaper editors sit in boardrooms and not actually talk to the general public?

Predictable?
Predictable?

Going by the response from many people who have taken to Twitter and other websites to have their say over teacher Jeremy Forrest – recently jailed for 5!/2 years for abducting a 15 year old pupil, it seems they might not get out much.

Reporting in the national press has been full of lurid headlines about Jeremy Forrest being a ‘paedophile’ and a ‘pervert.’ Meanwhile, one past pupil Chloe tells how Forrest ‘groomed’ her too. She decides this because this man sent her Christmas and Birthday cards and she stayed after class for extra lessons. But is there anything else – did he sexually assault her? No.

And here is one of the top comments on one of these stories from one national newspaper website: “I think ‘pervert teacher’ is a bit harsh to be honest. She’s hardly a little girl that he groomed. And how he can be found guilty of abduction when she begged him to take her to France I really don’t know!”

This comment is green arrowed up by thousands and as a journalist ‘on the ground’ so to speak, rather than sat in an office far removed from the masses in London, I have to say it is one that most people I am speaking to agree with.

After all, the girl was a willing party, she still loves him, and she was only just underage. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe we can condone what he did – he did breach his trust as a teacher – and he must take responsibility for this. But 5!/2 years? That is putting him in the same sort of bracket as a man that abducts (ie takes without her will) an eight year old and drags her screaming and kicking.

And while some say where do you draw the line, in virtually every other European country as the age of consent is lower anyway, this might not have even been seen as an offence. Then as a mum of three I can say for sure there is a world of difference between even an average 13 year old and a 15 (nearly 16) year old girl.

To be fair papers are in a very difficult situation. They have to be seen to be taking a responsible stand. After all, Forrest has been found guilty and he has admitted sexual offences with the girl who was underage. And it was the prosecution counsel, not the newspapers, that rather sensationally branded Forrest a paedophile and said he groomed his pupil for sex to satisfy his carnal desires.

So they cannot be seen to be saying that it’s ok for pupils to run off with their teachers.

Yet the issue here is many of us look to newspapers and their columnists for some insight into a situation. We want them to take the lead. We want them to be strong and ask those questions with the loud voice that only a national newspaper has.

And it is here that so far the national press has been woefully lacking. Just how do you stop a couple who have a huge crush on one another from seeing each other? Where was this girl’s mother (and her father for that matter – he’s barely been mentioned) in all this for example? That question hardly seems to have been asked. And yet, the mother herself says, “I never saw it coming or saw it once it was happening.” Really? Is any mother so sadly distanced from their daughter, 15, that they honestly see no sign she is in love?

She then goes on to talk about her daughter as if she is a little girl. Forrest taking her daughter has changed her. “I missed her last day at school, dressing her in a party dress and seeing her off to the prom…” She talks about her as if she is five and not 16. So it’s not surprising surely that the girl has since moved out of home and no longer speaks with her mum.

Rather than the usual ‘he abused me’ too (or not in this case) some intelligent insight from a psychologist would a start, someone writing a piece somewhere with a different view from predictable ‘paedophile teacher’ copy would make for a more interesting article.

Perhaps asking why Stuart Hall, who abused multiple victims, including children as young as nine, and yet only got months as his jail term would be a good way forward as well.

Right now many people feel disenchanted with the UK. There are many reasons – the endless NHS scandals, the benefits system, the high level of taxation – even the awful summer weather.

And then there’s the justice system. How is it you can kill someone for example and walk free from court? Sat as I do getting enquiries from the general public all day to sell a story, I see some terrible miscarriages of justice. It’s then people turn to papers as the last resort to gain some sort of justice.

So it seems a great shame that as the press are currently going through such momentous times – press regulation is still to be considered and shortly a number of hacking trials will begin – that at a time when they should be connecting with the public, they are just not.

Perhaps it’s time for some of those editors to read their own websites and actually talk to their readers. Should a special law be introduced to cover a case such as this (which is clearly not in the bracket of abducting Madeleine McCann or April Jones). In the case of Jeremy Forrest, let’s hope there is a newspaper brave enough to actually ask the questions the rest of the country is – and maybe even come up with some answers.

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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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