15 Year Old found with Mathematics Teacher in France
Fiona Raye Clarke looks at the legal issues surrounding the controversial disappearance of Megan Stammers.
Megan Stammers, a 15-year-old girl, went missing from East Sussex, England on September 20, 2012 after she was seen boarding a ferry from Dover to Calais. Found eight days later with her mathematics teacher, 30-year-old Jeremy Forrest in Bordeaux, France, Forrest was arrested and charged with child abduction. He was extradited to the UK on October 10, 2012.
To bring Forrest into custody in the UK, Sussex police resorted to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which was created under the EU Framework Decision in 2002 to speed up the process of extradition between countries.
Despite the potentially illegal nature of their relationship in the UK where the legal age of consent under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is 16, the age of consent according to French Penal Code Article 227-25 in France is 15. Though the EAW removes the requirement of double criminality – that both countries must have a similar crime in both jurisdictions for the offence to be an extraditable offence – in certain category offences, this sexual offence is not one of them.
Thus, the EAW issued for Forrest merely charged him with child abduction by someone other than a parent/guardian, under s 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984. Here, child abduction is defined as the “intentional or reckless taking or detention of a child under the age of 16 without lawful authority or reasonable excuse in order to remove them from any person with lawful control over them.“
But if Stammers consented to going with Forrest, as it would seem that she did, one could ask if her consent still constitutes child abduction? As decided in the case A  1 Cr. App. R. 418, the consent of the child in circumstances of abduction is irrelevant. As held by the judge, the “defendant’s actions” do not have to be proved to be the “sole, or even the main cause” of the child going with them. Thus, if Stammers consented, it holds no relevance to the charge.
Since Forrest was Stammers’ teacher this also brings up further issues. Under the Education Act 2011, s 13 gives anonymity to teachers who are alleged to have committed offences against their pupils. Enacted on October 1, 2012, just a few days after Stammers and Forrest had been found thanks to extensive media coverage of the case, this section has since been called into question.
In extradition law, for the defendant there is the protection of the specialty rule. Section 17 of the Extradition Act 2003, gives specialty protection for defendants being sought from Category 1 countries, which are mainly those also signatory to the EU Framework Decision. The specialty rule states that “the person extradited cannot be dealt with in the requesting state for any offence other than that for which he was extradited.” (Blackstone’s Guide to The Extradition Act 2003 by Julian B. Knowles) Thus, Forrest cannot technically be charged with any other offences despite alleged factual guilt. While the defendant has a right to waive “specialty,” Forrest did not waive it and thus in Forrest’s case the UK is bound by specialty. And so, if the Sussex police were to charge Forrest with any other crime, they would face a legal battle.
However, Forrest nevertheless could still be found by the French government to be suspected of abuse of trust because he was Stammers’ teacher. In the UK, s 16 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 prohibits sexual activity with a child by those within a position of trust regardless of consent. The offence potentially applicable to the Stammers’ case would be abuse of the position of trust by persons over 18. As a teacher, Forrest was held to be in a special position of trust, charged with Stammers’ care. Thus, he potentially abused that power, depending on the nature of their relationship.
These are just some of the issues that come out of this fascinating abduction case. It will be interesting to see what the outcome will be for Forrest and Stammers, and the potential impact the case may have on provisions such as s 13 of the Education Act 2011.