Music teacher who raped and abused six schoolgirls during campaign of terror jailed for 11 years

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

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

Lanarkshire Live understands this included a school in Monklands.

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The 45 year-old ex-police officer had initially been described as a “fun teacher” and a “father figure”.

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

Birch’s 11-year sentence, imposed by Judge William Gallacher at the High Court in Glasgow on Thursday, 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 Birch: “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.”

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Judge Gallacher added that he had to take account of the “past, current and enduring impact” that Birch’s actions had on the victims.

A number of those affected attended court on Thursday to hear his sentence, with their relief as their abuser was jailed evident.

In a rare move after sentencing, Judge Gallacher thanked them for returning to court having relived their orders at trial, however, 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 said: “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.

He 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.”

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

However, 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 bothered.

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” and he remarked about one pupil’s breasts.

The abuse went under the radar and Birch moved to a school in Fife. He then targeted his final victim of him, who was a talented singer.

She ended up “emotionally dependent” on the school’s music department and “massively relied” on Birch. The manipulative teacher groomed this girl and first struck after driving to his now home in Falkirk.

Of her rape, the victim recalled: “I did 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 order.

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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.”

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 become teachers themselves.

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

In her remarks, Miss Campbell added: “Birch cultivated dependencies, 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.”

Gordon Martin, defending, said married Birch maintained his innocence, adding: “It is intended that he will appeal the conviction.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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