The media’s reaction to Megan Stammers’ disappearance

By James Dixon

Front-page stories have recently been dominated by news of the disappearance of Sussex school-girl, Megan Stammers. The story is shocking in its facts: a schoolgirl has run off to Europe with her teacher, Jeremy Forrest.

The British media have been keen to turn the story into a parallel of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: a taboo tale of forbidden love. The BBC, Daily Mail, Guardian and local paper the Eastbourne Herald have all covered the story with great enthusiasm and have dedicated numerous articles to updating the story as it unfolds.

How far should media coverage extend though? It is understandable that media organisations would want to cover the story but when does coverage eclipse the story and turn the issue into a perverse spectacle?

Photos have surfaced on news organisation’s websites – like the Daily Mail – of Jeremy Forrest on his wedding day in Brighton. These photos include his wife, Emily Forrest. Should media organisations be allowed to embroil innocent people in unfortunate affairs? Mrs Forrest will unfairly suffer for her husbands wrong doings; she does not need her face splashed across webpages and newspaper pages.

A good story needs a strong antagonist and it seems that Bishop Bell have fit that criteria well with its array of colourful characters. Robert Healy, a former supply teacher at Bishop Bell has previously been convicted for sex offences.  Speaking to the Mail, a parent of pupil, Charna Rose, said:  ‘She just doesn’t feel safe there [Bishop Bell] now.’ Should we be so quick to vilify a whole school?

Terry Boatwright, Head-Teacher at Bishop Bell School, has come under fire for his child protection policy as recent revelations have upturned the fact that a governor charged with sex offences is also connected to the school. Speaking to the BBC, Lucy Duckworth, a child protection campaigner, said: “I’ve written to [the school] and several other officials, including… Michael Gove and Stephen Lloyd MP, several times since February this year and stated their child protection policies have been inadequate throughout this time.”

Mr Boatwright said: the school was “addressing and investigating concerns that had been raised.” He went on to state: “The school is a close-knit community and Megan’s disappearance has affected everyone connected with it.” Boatwright’s child protection policy may have been found wanting; however, Bishop Bell School has consistently produced high academic results in the Eastbourne area. It was top of the Eastbourne table this year with an impressive haul of 97 per cent of pupils attaining  five or more A* to C at GCSE level.

The Megan Stammers case has certainly raised one issue though. There appears to be a stark dichotomy in the handling of academic and social policy. Bishop Bell are unfortunate; they have become the unwilling scapegoats of a possible greater issue.

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