February 2022

Scots music teacher groomed and raped school pupils and called one girl ‘fair game’

A music teacher guilty of a campaign of rape, abuse and grooming against six female pupils has been jailed for 11 years.

Ex-police officer Matthew Birch – who classed girls as “fair game” – preyed on his victims while he worked at secondary schools in North Lanarkshire and Fife.

The 45 year-old from Falkirk and Edinburgh had initially been described as a “fun teacher” and a “father figure”.

But, jurors heard how Birch targeted girls who had musical talent, but often had personal issues.

Birch was locked up at the High Court in Glasgow.

The 11-year sentence imposed by Judge William Gallacher was the same length of time Birch’s abuse lasted.

He had previously been found guilty of nine charges including rape and engaging in sexual activity while in a position of trust between 2006 and 2017.

The judge told Gallacher: “You have been convicted of a series of dreadful crimes amounting to grooming, manipulation and abuse of girls of whom you were in a position of trust.

“You sought out girls who had difficulties or problems in their lives.

“In the pretext of supporting them, you brought them under your influence.”

He added he had to take account of the “past, current and enduring impact” what Birch did has had on the victims.

A number attended the hearing and sobbed with relief as their abuser was jailed.

In a rare move after sentencing, Judge Gallacher thanked them for returning to court having relived their ordeals at trial.

They were too upset to comment after the case.

Jurors heard how the shamed teacher had joined the Lanarkshire school in 2006.

In her closing speech, prosecutor Erin Campbell said: “He systematically targeted vulnerable female pupils, befriended them and positioned himself in their lives as a confidante.”

The trial heard how he referred to one girl as “fair game” in a text.

Miss Campbell: “That evidence supports just exactly how Matthew Birch perceived the pupils of the schools that he taught in.”

Birch also boasted he wanted to teach sex education as he was “so good at sex”.

The first victim told how she liked Birch adding: “He was bigging me up and making me feel better about herself.”

He claimed to be a part-time photographer and suggested taking pictures of her to supposedly boost her self-esteem.

But, Birch instead went to her home and raped the teenager having handcuffed her.

Birch soon turned his attention to another girl, who he had underage sex with at his then flat in Edinburgh while his girlfriend was out.

He again used handcuffs, filmed what they were doing and asked the pupil to call him “sir”.

Jurors heard further sexual activity with the girl took place in a cupboard at the school and on a trip with other pupils.

But, he later insisted he “could not do it anymore” as he was going to propose to his girlfriend on holiday in the Far East.

Despite his claims, more girls were subjected to seedy comments or molested.

One – who featured in a charge which was withdrawn – said: “Mr Birch liked to select girls carefully.

“He seemed to have a knack of knowing when you were vulnerable and that was when he was most interested.

“If something changed in your life, he would not be around as much.

“He would not give you the niceness he had until you were weak again.”

Birch was said to have told one teenager her “bum looked good”.

Another apparently had “come to bed eyes” while he remarked about one pupil’s breasts.

The abuse went under the radar and Birch moved to the school in Fife.

He targeted the final victim, who was a talented singer.

She ended up “emotionally dependent” on the school’s music department and “massively relied” on Birch.

But, the manipulative teacher groomed this girl and first struck after driving to his now home in Falkirk, Stirlingshire.

As she was being raped, the victim recalled: “I done literally nothing. I could not move.”

It happened again at his home before Birch carried out a separate sex attack near a cricket pitch in Fife.

The girl bravely went to a principal teacher in late 2018 to report her ordeal.

Prosecutor Miss Campbell stated to jurors: “She confided in her, but she was not believed.

“(This teacher) did not report it to anyone and instead went straight to Matthew Birch.”

After not hearing anything, the same now young woman returned in 2019 to the school she had now left and this time spoke to a head teacher.

Police were called and a huge probe was set up to find the other victims.

Many had believed they had been the only one Birch had abused. Two had since became teachers themselves.

Miss Campbell said if the final victim had not returned with her complaint, Birch may still be teacher.

In her remarks, Miss Campbell added: “Birch cultivated dependences, he assured himself of the girls’ loyalty by creating a culture of being their friend and a pivotal part of their support network.

“He is a predator…his prey conforms to a particular type, girls aged 14-17, musical talent, troubled lives and difficulties at home.”