Video report by ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith with additional newsgathering and production by Jade Liversidge and Imogen Barrer
The Vice Principal at one of the UK’s most prestigious ballet schools has resigned after an ITV News investigation revealed allegations he had been grooming his teenage students for sex.
Jonathan Barton, who worked at Ballet West Scotland in Argyll, has been accused of abusing his position to sleep with 16 year-old pupils at the £9,000 a year boarding school his family runs in Taynuilt.
Our investigation has heard from more than 60 women - former students, staff and parents - who have given us their accounts of the Ballet West teacher’s inappropriate behaviour going back as far as 2004 and as recently as 2018.
Many of the former students who told us about being groomed for an inappropriate sexual relationship with Jonathan Barton did so on the understanding they will remain anonymous, but they gave us permission to publish their statements.
'There is no way you can complain about him': A former pupils speaks about what she alleges happened at Ballet West Scotland
On Thursday, Ballet West announced Mr Barton had resigned from him post and an external independent inquiry would be carried out.
A solicitor for Mr Barton confirmed he had resigned and said his client “refutes the allegations in the strongest terms”.
One former pupil, who ITV News are calling “Woman A”, says she has found the strength to talk about her ordeal at Ballet West for the first time.
“I was groomed and had a sexual relationship with Jonathan Barton when I was a student,” she told us.
“I was 16 years old. He abused his position of power.”
Telling us how she was allegedly groomed, Woman A explains Barton picked her as a ‘favourite’ in class and lavished her with attention.
“He would buy you things like Christmas presents, then there were little inside jokes.
“He’s very charming and he is powerful.”
Jonathan Barton, 38, started teaching at Ballet West in 2002.
He is the son of the school’s principal and founder, Gillian Barton.
Woman A says she felt there was nowhere for her to complain at the school.
“His mum was also the principal,” she says.
“So going to the mother of the predator, at 16 years old - that’s scary, it’s not right.”
'He picked his victims really carefully': Pupil describes her relationship with Mr Barton
Ballet West is Scotland’s biggest ballet school - just this year, it won the ‘Best British Ballet School’ award at the British Ballet Grand Prix awards.
It is located high in the hills of Taynuilt near Oban - the school advertises the isolated location as an attraction, with the chance for young people to live and learn far from other distractions.
However, the seclusion has also concealed its secrets.
Another graduate from the school, who ITV News will refer to as “Woman B", says the Barton family ran the school like their own personal fiefdom and were the gatekeepers to a career in dance - an influence she claims Mr Barton exploited again and again.
“They were really responsible for what happened in your dance career - they knew a lot of people in high places,” she says.
Peter Smith provides latest updates surrounding Ballet West allegations
“He was calculated in what he did.
“I think he picked his victims very carefully.
Woman B says she was lavished with attention by her teacher.
“He started a sexual relationship with me when I was 16,” she says.
"The text messages went on for ages and ages, and then you’d be invited up to his room in the middle of the night.
“Again, really silly of me but at 16 you thought it was really exciting.
“I’ve now found the strength to talk about it.
“I know what he did to me was wrong.
“I’m not blaming myself anymore.”
One of Barton’s former colleagues, who wishes to remain anonymous, told us they felt his alleged behaviour pushed them to quit.
“I felt I was pimping for him by bringing in these new students who were so excited,” they told us.
“They were looking forward to this new adventure, and I could see previous pupils who left broken."
Our investigation has heard further corroborated allegations about his unorthodox teaching methods which former students say are unlike anything they’ve experienced before.
Shannen Redmond describes “the most horrendous” three years of her life at Ballet West
Shannen Redmond wanted to speak about this without anonymity. She was a student at the school from 2013 to 2016 - what she describes as “the most horrendous” three years of her life.
“He had this special technique of a plie, which is basically like a squat in ballet,” she told us.
“His special technique was to open the hips up, and he would come around and push your hips open so you would be down in a kind of squat - one hand on your hip, one hand on your knee pushing it open. But the way he was crouching down with you, his head was literally in between your legs."
"You wouldn’t think anything of that at the time because you trust your ballet teacher to not be inappropriate. But this was a technique I’ve seen before, ever. From three years-old to 18, no ballet teachers got that invasive into private space.”
It’s a teaching method other students have corroborated.
Another former pupil who wants to remain anonymous, said, “He would put one hand on our bum and the other hand touching us to open up our legs wide to the side. And his head would be right down low and level with our crotch. Extremely close.
“We would just presume this was a normal correcting technique but now I am more experienced and have been corrected on my plies many times since I know this is completely wrong and it’s very disturbing.
She also told us that during ballet lessons Barton would become visibly aroused - an allegation corroborated by others in her class.
“Sometimes he wouldn’t even try to disguise it,” she told us.
“Obviously we were all just girls studying in our leotards and tights.
“It was disturbing and embarrassing. It happened on a number of occasions.”
Woman C told us: “Jonathan had an inappropriately intimate relationship with me. I was young and naive, far from my family and my home.”
Woman D said: “Like the girl before me, I thought I was different. That he loved me. It’s clear to me now I’ve grown up - his special attention was to get what he wanted.”
Our investigation has also uncovered evidence the school was made aware of concerns about Jonathan Barton’s behaviour.
Annie Gaffney, who spoke without anonymity, started dancing when she was 6 years old. In 2011, she was accepted to attend Ballet West with a dream, like all students there, of becoming a professional ballet dancer.
During her second year, she became concerned that her Vice-Principal was grooming a younger house mate at school. In 2012, she and two other girls tried reporting their worries to the school principal - Jonathan Barton’s mother, Gillian.
‘We basically got told to shut up and stop making rumours up’ Ex-pupil Annie Gaffney says her life was ‘made hell’ after she tried reporting grooming worries
“We basically got told to shut up and stop making rumours up,” she says. “After that our lives were just made hell. The bullying, the humiliation, in front of the full school.
“There were times when I was told I had ‘bingo wings,’ I was prodded in class and told I shouldn’t be that flabby.”
She believes she was singled out because she made a complaint. “It should have been followed up, but nothing was, it was just swept under the carpet.”
Annie tried to raise the alarm in 2012.
ITV News has discovered that in 2018, Jonathan Barton received a written warning following a complaint of sexually inappropriate behaviour with a student.
In a statement to ITV News, Gary McAteer, a solicitor for Jonathan Barton said: “Our client refutes these allegations in the strongest possible terms.
“They are untrue and highly defamatory.
“Our client will spare no effort to defend his integrity and will co-operate with any inquiry into these matters.
“However, given his respect for the school and concern to ensure that the school maintains the confidence of students, parents and the public, he has - with a heavy heart - chosen to tender his resignation.”
In a statement to ITV News, Ballet West said they had announced on Thursday that they “had launched an external independent inquiry into allegations of ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ by a member of staff towards students.
“The Board of Trustees of the school, which is headquartered in Argyll, Scotland, has issued the following statement: ‘The safety and wellbeing of students is of paramount importance and these allegations came as a shock to the school.
‘We have no complaint from any student about such behaviour and, to our knowledge, no complaint has been made to the police or other authority.
‘However, given the nature of the accusations, the board initiated an immediate internal inquiry to establish facts.
‘A senior member of staff was identified as being the focus of the accusations.
‘He has emphatically denied any wrongdoing and will co-operate fully with any investigation.
‘In the meantime, he has offered his resignation so that an investigation can be undertaken freely, and students and their families can have confidence in the process.
‘The member of staff involved has said that he will vigorously contest any allegations and his decision to resign has been made to ensure the school is not brought into disrepute.
‘The board has accepted his resignation and have informed all relevant authorities of the accusations.
‘We have also started the process of undertaking a full independent inquiry which will be led a senior legal figure with no connection to the school.
‘The school regards any issue involving students and staff with the utmost seriousness.
If you have been or are a pupil at Ballet West Scotland and believe you experienced inappropriate behaviour, please contact: email@example.com
If you are in distress or need some support, the following charities can also help:
The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.
The Papyrus HopeLineUK is available on 0800 068 4141 and more information can be found on their website.
CALM is available from 5pm until midnight on 0800 58 58 58 and more information can be found on their website.