A new law giving teachers accused of offences against children anonymity has been condemned as Jeremy Forrest was today arrested on suspicion of child abduction “as a direct result of media coverage”.
From Monday, teachers in cases such as this – Forrest has been on the run since last Thursday with a 15-year-old schoolgirl – would have automatic anonymity unless that has been overturned by a magistrate.
The new law gives lifelong anonymity to teachers accused of offences against children until the point they are charged.
The Society of Editors has lobbied hard against the change and today executive director Bob Satchwell poured scorn on a press statement put out by the Department of Education insisting that the new law would not affect coverage in cases such as that of Forrest.
A Department of Education spokesman said: “This change will not affect cases like the one currently getting national attention. The police, media organisations and others will be able to apply to a magistrate for an order lifting teacher anonymity.
“If it is in the best interest of the child, this will be granted straightaway so the public can help the police. No teacher who has been charged with an offence, or where a warrant for arrest has been issued, will enjoy anonymity.”
But Satchwell said: “It would affect cases like this critically in the sense that in accusations against a teacher, unless there is a charge, you have to go court to name them. The idea that going to court is easy is a nonsense. It’s time-consuming and expensive and any application is likely to be opposed.
“We’ve seen from other cases that social services and the police are not always quick to act and this is one of the arguments that we made to the education department.
“The ministers seem to be relying on speedy action by the police to bring charges, but the opposite is likely to be true.
“This is not just about the media. If you’ve got a group of parents and one of their children says that they have been assaulted they can’t even discuss it with other parents.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous that parents and other teachers would not be able to discuss their concerns with other people. People could be prosecuted for telling the truth.”
Schoolgirl Megan Stammers and Jeremy Forrest were located in France today.
Sussex Police issued a statement saying: “Mr Forrest has been arrested on suspicion of child abduction and Megan has been taken into protection.
“The information which led to them being located came as a direct result of media coverage in France.
“At this stage we are not confirming the specific location where they were found. Their families have been informed and arrangements will now be made for Megan and Jeremy's safe return.”