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Runaway British teen heads home

(AFP)
Filed on September 29, 2012

BORDEAUX, France A 15-year-old British schoolgirl who ran away to France with a married teacher was expected to return home on Saturday, while the arrested man was in prison awaiting extradition.

Jeremy Forrest, a 30-year-old maths teacher, was being held in the Gradignan prison in southwest France after his arrest in Bordeaux on Friday on suspicion of abducting Megan Stammers.

He is awaiting a court hearing on Tuesday which will decide whether to extradite him to Britain, and has said he will not oppose being handed over to British authorities, according to his lawyer Daniel Lalanne.

Forrest, seen by a witness on Friday evening in the corridor of a Bordeaux court without handcuffs and “a long face”, surrounded by police, was “very disappointed by the sudden brake put on his romance,” Lalanne said.

“He is not on the run, he was arrested while he was in Bordeaux looking for work in order to carry on his romance in a country that might be more understanding,” the lawyer added.

Under French law, a 15-year-old is not considered a minor in sexual terms, unlike in Britain, where the age of consent is 16.

Lalanne, who saw Forrest early on Saturday along with British lawyer Henrietta Ronson, added that Forrest was not depressed. He had been well treated by French authorities and in prison, he said.

He described Forrest as “charming”, seeming younger than his age and “very self-effacing.”

Meanwhile, British media have reported that Stammers’s mother Danielle Wilson has gone to Bordeaux to bring her home.

French authorities have only said that the teenager would be handed over to her family “as soon as possible”, without explaining how or when that would take place.

The pair were discovered strolling down Bordeaux’s main shopping street after a member of the public recognised Forrest from media coverage of the runaways.

The manager of a hotel in Bordeaux where the couple stayed one night said they were “discreet” and “not particularly amorous”.

“They arrived on September 21 late afternoon and left Saturday morning but I did not know at all that they were illegal,” said Eric, the hotel manager who did not want to give his full name.

‘She didn’t look 15’

The manager said Forrest, who spoke a few words of French, registered under the name of “Jack Grant” and that he never thought Stammers was a minor.

“She didn’t look 15 years old, but rather 18 to 20 while he seemed a bit younger than 30,” Eric said.

“What intrigued me was that he came in alone, booked a double room and when I asked him where she was he told me, ‘She’s waiting outside’, which is not how things are done generally,” he added.

When they checked out the following morning, paying cash, the manager said he saw them for a short while in the lobby but “they didn’t talk a lot to each other.”

Prosecutors emphasised that French police were not investigating the case but simply carrying out an international arrest warrant issued by British authorities.

The pair had not been seen since boarding a cross-Channel ferry together on September 20. CCTV pictures were released of them holding hands and walking arm in arm aboard the ferry from Dover to the northern French port of Calais.

Their parents had appealed for them to get in touch but played down fears that the schoolgirl could be in any danger.

There was never any suggestion that Stammers was taken by Forrest against her will.

French authorities had been accused by the British media of failing to take her disappearance seriously after some judicial officials were quoted as saying the couple were not being actively looked for.

While Stammers is not considered a minor sexually, Forrest could be deemed to have committed a crime in France if he was found to have abused the position of authority he had as her teacher.

The teacher, who plays in a rock band under the stage name Jeremy Ayre and has a wife aged 31, had hinted at a “moral dilemma” on his blog four months ago.

France has open borders with Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg under the Schengen Agreement, which had raised speculation that the pair might have moved on across the continent.


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