When schoolgirl Megan Stammers fled with her married teacher Jeremy Forrest, 30, it sparked outrage and an international hunt – ending with them being found last Friday
Originally published 2 October 2012;
When Kat Baillie heard that missing schoolgirl Megan Stammers had been found last week, it brought back traumatic memories of her own experiences.
Almost 12 years ago, Kat found herself in an uncannily similar situation to Megan’s. Then, aged 14, Kat fell for a maths teacher at her school. Paul Tramontini was 17 years older than her. They eloped – going missing for 18 months, living rough around the south of England – and sparked a nationwide search, with Kat’s photograph plastered on milk bottles and her parents appealing for help on Crimewatch.
When they eventually handed themselves in to police, Paul was arrested for child abduction and Kat was left traumatised.
Kat, who’s now 27 and living in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, says: “It was a huge shock – I couldn’t believe there’d been so much attention over us. When I read the papers, I was angry – they all portrayed Paul as some monster who’d led me astray but, if anything, I feel I led him astray.
“It was very traumatic being separated from him – for the previous 18 months, we’d been together constantly.
“It was lovely to see my family, though – thankfully, we don’t bear grudges.”
Paul was bailed and the couple carried on living with each other until he was jailed for seven months in September 2001.
After his release, they continued to live together. They eventually split seven years later in 2007, but Kat reveals she’s still on friendly terms with him and they’re in sporadic contact.
But Kat confesses that, looking back, she realises he wasn’t the right man for her. “I didn’t know what love was until I met my husband,” says Kat, who got married in 2007.
“I always wanted a stable loving home and now I’ve got that.
“I don’t know the details of Megan’s relationship – all I know is that I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong about being in love with Paul – but I was only 14 and I didn’t have the life experience that I do now.”
Kat was just 14 when she first met Paul in a pub where she was singing with her band. He sat at a table next to her father, Tom, who was there to chaperone her.
'At the time, I was sure I was in love. It’s only now that I realise he was never right for me.'
She says: “He was chatting to my dad and I joined in. I really enjoyed his company – we talked about everything and it was only later that I discovered he was a teacher at my school.”
But that didn’t put Kat off – instead, she admits she joined his after-school club so she could get to know him better.
A few months later, she tried to kiss him outside a pub, but says he drew back, saying it was inappropriate. But this didn’t cool Kat’s crush on the teacher and she sought him out whenever she could. She even tracked down his home in Southsea and visited him with a love letter.
Kat admits: “At the time, I was sure I was in love. It’s only now that I realise he was never right for me. But I was only 14 and I admit that I didn’t get everything right. I was too young to understand what love really was at that age.”
Before long, fellow pupils and teachers noticed their blossoming friendship and started spreading gossip about Kat and Paul. His house was mysteriously vandalised and Kat claims he was treated as a “criminal,” even though he’d done nothing wrong.
She says: “We had an amazing connection. He was the only person who understood how I saw the world.”
Her concerned parents, Margery and Tom Baillie, grounded her and confiscated her mobile phone to stop her contacting Paul. It’s this – on top of gossip at school – that she says triggered her into running away when they tried to ground her.
'The first thing I did after we left was stop at a service station, chop off my hair and bleach the rest of it blonde.'
Kat says: “I don’t blame anyone really – my mum was concerned for her daughter and that was the best way to handle it. I was angry and upset that people were interfering and no one would believe me that it was all innocent. It was a mess.
“I ran away on my own at 15 the first time in April 2000 and Paul tracked me down and told me to go home to my parents,” she says.
Paul was arrested on suspicion of child abduction, but released. Kat was incensed: “We weren’t criminals, we just wanted to be together,” she says.
A week after their return, they left again and, this time, stayed away for 415 days, living rough and completely unaware of the nationwide search for them.
“I didn’t realise what a big deal it was,” she says. “I’d left a message with a friend to tell my parents that I was safe and with Paul, so I thought they’d leave it at that.
“The first thing I did after we left was stop at a service station, chop off my hair and bleach the rest of it blonde. We made a disguise for Paul and lived rough in the south of England. We also made up fake names for each other – he became ‘Lee’ and I became ‘Dionne.’
“I got a trusted friend, who was going to Italy, to send a postcard that I’d written from there, saying we were safe. But I didn’t really have time to think about my friends and family. It was all about survival.”
Kat insists the couple didn’t so much as kiss until she lost her virginity to Paul when she was 16 in February 2001, 10 months after they had eloped.
Then, in June 2001, Kat was told by a friend that her father was seriously ill and the couple handed themselves in at a police station in Portsmouth.
Sadly, her dad died just six months later. In September 2001, Paul was jailed for seven months for abducting Kat.
Kat – who now runs an entertainment agency – says she doesn’t regret running away with Paul.
She explains: “All that we went through has made us the people we are. I’m still fond of Paul but, in the end, it didn’t work because he wasn’t the right man for me.”