Music teacher led campaign of rape, abuse and grooming against girls

Matthew Birch targeted girls who had musical talent, but often had personal issues, in North Lanarkshire and Fife.

Music teacher led campaign of rape, abuse and grooming against girls georgeclerk via iStock
Birch denied anything inappropriate occurred during a trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

A music teacher who classed female pupils as “fair game” is behind bars for an 11-year campaign of rape, abuse and grooming against six girls.

Matthew Birch was described by prosecutors as a sexual “predator” whose “prey conformed to a particular type”.

The 45-year-old targeted girls who had musical talent, but often had personal issues.

Victims at the two secondary schools in North Lanarkshire and Fife had initially described him as a “fun teacher” and a “father figure”.

Advertisement

But, he raped two of the girls and had sex with another including using handcuffs.

The final victim confided in a principal teacher – but she was a friend of Birch and instead went to him rather than taking it further.

It was only when she later went back to a headteacher that a large-scale probe was sparked into Birch.

He denied anything inappropriate occurred during a trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

Advertisement

But, jurors on Friday returned unanimous guilty verdicts to nine charges including rape and engaging in sexual activity while in a position of trust between 2006 and 2017.

Birch had been on bail, but was remanded in custody pending sentencing in the New Year.

The shamed teacher had joined the Lanarkshire school in 2006.

Birch soon abused the trust girls put in him.

In her speech to jurors, 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.”

Advertisement

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 photos of her to supposedly boost her self-esteem.

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

He handcuffed the girl – having earlier also alleged to have been in the police.

This victim recalled feeling “disgusted” at one stage.

Birch soon turned his attention to another girl, who he had 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.

Birch later told her it would have to stop – she remembered feeling “relieved”.

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 headteacher.

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 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.”

Judge William Gallacher told Birch his crimes had a “catastrophic” effect on victims.

He said: “You have been convicted of a catalogue of very serious offences against young girls. Your behaviour was despicable.

“You should prepare yourself for a lengthy custodial sentence.”

Birch waved and blew a kiss to a sobbing woman who had accompanied him to court.