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A week later and you wouldn't know name of missing teacher
9:05am Friday 28th September 2012 in Editor Ian Murray's Blog
The coverage over missing school girl Megan Stammers and her maths teacher Jeremy Forrest – believed to be somewhere in France – is interesting, if only for its timing.
Had the story of the couple who its believed left on a cross-Channel ferry over the weekend and have not been sighted since, broken next week it is debatable that you would know anything about it.
On October 1 a new law comes into effect that makes it illegal for anyone – not just the media – to report or even discuss any matters pertaining to a teacher that might be seen as referring to a possible illegal act with a child in their care.
The Act means that it will be unlawful to name or otherwise give details likely to identify a teacher who has been accused of an offence against a child at his or her school if that teacher has not yet been charged with a criminal offence - even if the accusation is referred to in public.
The restriction relates to any criminal offence involving a child who is a pupil at the teacher’s school.
The anonymity ends only if the teacher is charged with a criminal offence, or a court agrees to an application that it is in the interests of justice that it should be lifted.
Perhaps, just perhaps, a court would have been asked in the case of Megan and Mr Forrest to allow for a general appeal to be made for knowledge of their whereabouts. But in the absence of such a ruling – or Mr Forrest contacting the media to give his permission to be named! – we would all have to remain in the dark.
I was one of those who raised eyebrows when the Act was forced pushed through. For while understanding how teachers suffer through false accusations and how difficult it must be to live under
such a cloud, especially if no charges are ever made and there is no day of acquittal in court, I had to ask why should only members of that profession get such anonymity?
Because it’s true. Teachers alone among all walks of life have been granted this precious gift.
If a police officer is suspended for, say, a probe into whether they acted improperly with a defendant in their custody, then that fact can be reported, whether charges follow or not.
The same applies to the nurse accused of ill-treating a patient, or the council officer suspended pending investigations into missing funds, or the bus driver put on gardening leave while a passenger’s accusation is looked into by the company.
In short, the only people granted the right to remain out of the public eye during such investigations, are teachers.
Why? Heaven knows.
But if it all goes very quiet next week on the search for Megan, you might understand why.
• What a difference a year makes. In the UK 15-year-old Megan is a minor. In France, where she has skipped off to, 15 is the age of consent. For that reason neither the French police nor the French media seem that keen to track the pair down. Strange folk those Continentals.