Police investigation launched after ITV News uncovers allegations of grooming at prestigious UK ballet school

Allegations that a now-former vice principal at Scotland’s biggest ballet school was grooming students for sex are being probed by police following an investigation by ITV News.Now, just days after the report exposed alleged abuse at Ballet West, further allegations have surfaced about "inappropriate behaviour" there. Originally, more than 60 students, staff and parents claimed that the school's vice principal Jonathan Barton had groomed teenagers going on to have sexual relationships with them, with claims going as far back as 2004 and as recently as 2018. 

Now around 30 more have spoken out about alleged misconduct. 

Following our report on Thursday, Mr Barton resigned from his position but  made it clear he denies everything.

When we approached him with new allegations he went to the court for a gagging order against us.

ITV News successfully recalled the order with Mr Barton contributing towards the costs of recalling the order.

Now we can reveal a new witness who alleges he groomed her when she was 16-year-old - and, she says, she has evidence. 

The woman, who asked not to be identified, showed us the messages Jonathan Barton sent her when she was his student at Ballet West. 

In one, he describes a sexual fantasy he has about her, and also in the message her teacher said: “I love kissing you.” 

She told us: “He’s denied these allegations but I am here looking at the proof.

“He definitely avoided the confident girls in the class, and he went for the young innocent girls who he could easily manipulate.

“He was really secretive about our relationship in front of other members of staff and at the time, naively, I thought he was embarrassed of me, that I wasn't good enough. 

"Looking back, he knew he was in the wrong and he was just terrified of getting caught.

“Weirdly, he wasn't as secretive of our relationship in front of other students and I think that was because he wanted to normalise our relationship in front of other students so he could drop me for another girl if he wanted to. 

“He started messaging me, then gradually these messages became more and more frequent. 

“And then eventually he invited me up to his room in the middle of the night. And the first time I said no. 

“And I remember him making me feel almost pathetic and prudish for not wanting to go. 

“And so then his messages became much more persistent. And eventually I gave in to them. And that's when we started a relationship. 

“I was a young 16-year-old girl.

"This is the first time I'd ever had an intimate relationship with somebody. And as a young girl, I thought it was a normal relationship.

"But now when I look back as an adult, I can see how manipulating he was, how controlling he was. 

"And he just said what he needed to say to get what he wanted.

“I saw the school deny everything and it’s just typical of them to deny it all.

"I felt angry at that. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m speaking now because it’s got to be put to an end.”

Jonathan Barton has been accused of grooming by former pupils. Credit: Facebook

Jonathan Barton’s legal team have been approached for comment.

In their most recent statement to us they said: “This is now an ongoing police investigation.

"We had contact with the detective concerned.

"Having considered the matter it is our view that this development now makes it inappropriate for our client to have any further contact with you or to make any further comment.”

Mr Barton’s membership has now been suspended by the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) - the body that accredits ballet teachers.

But we can reveal that the RAD knew about concerns over Jonathan Barton’s behaviour at Ballet West eight years ago. 

A whistleblower told us the organisation received a complaint in 2012, but it was not investigated properly because they relied on asking the school’s principal - who is also Jonathan Barton’s mother, Gillian Barton.

The whistleblower said she took the allegations to the accrediting body and was told they would go directly to the school.

“I didn't feel completely comfortable with that because it is a safeguarding issue.

“But he made the decision to go to the school, speak to the principal who is Jonathan's mother, and ask her directly if she felt that the incident was true or not.

"She came back and said no.

"As you probably would assume, a mother might. And that's where it was left.

“And it was very much then reported back that, you know, that was that the allegations were deemed to be just rumours. And, you know, we'll leave it there.

“It just sat very uncomfortably with me. And now, when I saw the ITV News report of what happened, I actually felt sick because I thought, wow, I knew exactly who this person was when I saw his name on paper and thought this was just one incident that we'd reported how many more had gone unreported?

“And actually could something have been done at the time had something been in place that we could've followed?”

After our investigation, Gillian Barton has been suspended by the Ballet West board of Trustees pending the school’s external inquiry led by a QC.

Jonathan Barton pictured during a ballet performance. Credit: Facebook/ Ballet West

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "Police have now received a number of reports which will be thoroughly investigated.""Police Scotland is committed to bringing sexual offenders before the courts and treat all reports of sexual abuse with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity."

"Anyone wishing to report any kind of sexual offence should call us on 101 or 999 in an emergency. Alternatively, an anonymous report can be made via the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

In a statement, the board said: "Any emerging allegations will form part of ongoing external and internal investigations.

"Since ITN broadcast allegations last Thursday, the board has yet to receive any complaint from either students or parents.

"The vast majority of parents who have contacted us have done so in support of Ballet West and the quality of education but we welcome an investigation by Police Scotland and urge anyone who feels they have cause for complaint to make these concerns known to thepolice or the Ballet West board."In a statement, the Royal Academy of Dance said: "The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is deeply concerned by the serious allegations made about Ballet West. 

"Following the resignation of the Vice-Principal, a non-teaching member of the Royal Academy of Dance, and the suspension of a senior member of staff at Ballet West (an RAD Registered Teacher), the RAD has suspended both memberships, pending the outcome of the external independent inquiry or in the event of new information. 

"The RAD takes the safeguarding of young people and vulnerable adults very seriously. 

"We are guided by robust safeguarding policies and procedures, which are reviewed annually in line with legislation by a designated Safeguarding Committee and approved by our Board of Trustees. 

"The RAD is not the governing body for Ballet West and has no legal or regulatory responsibility for the school. 

"Since 2019, the RAD and Ballet West have had an agreement in place offering Ballet West students the opportunity to gain eligibility for RAD Registered Teacher Status. 

"Eligible students must hold an undergraduate degree and have been successful on the RAD’s Access Route. 

"The RAD chooses only to work with reputable and accredited dance institutions. 

"In light of these allegations, and following the decision made by Bath Spa University to end immediately their partnership with Ballet West for delivery of their BA (Hons) Ballet degree programme, the RAD will be terminating its agreement with Ballet West. 

"The RAD is committed to the wellbeing of all its students. 

"We have contacted all Ballet West students currently enrolled on the RAD Access Route confirming our intention to continue with the delivery of the Access Route for those students already registered."

The Open University has also expressed a range of concerns about Ballet West which they raised directly with Ballet West during their time as validator. A spokesperson said: “Concerns about safeguarding of students at Ballet West were raised in September 2018 and we immediately informed Argyll and Bute Council. These safeguarding concerns, including allegations of inappropriate sexual relations between students and a staff member were also raised directly by the Open University with the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Ballet West in October 2018. Following this, our concerns about the competence of Ballet West management and compliance with OU partnership requirements led to the termination of our partnership with Ballet West. “The Open University gave notice to terminate our validation agreement with Ballet West in December 2018. As a result, validation formally ceased at the end of July 2019. This supported students in academic year 2018/19 to complete their qualification. “We additionally contacted the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and the Office for Students in England regarding this.”

In response to the OU, a Ballet West spokesperson told ITV News: "There were recommendations from the OU on how student experience could be improved and they were actioned.

"At no stage, was Ballet West made aware of any complaints being made to the OU by students in relation to inappropriate behaviour. Nor were any complaints passed on to Ballet West by the OU."

The University of the Highlands and Islands closed its BA classical ballet and dance performance and HNC/HND professional stage dance courses delivered through Ballet West at the end of academic year 2011/12.

A spokesperson for the University said: "Following concerns raised with us in late 2011, which included serious allegations involving student welfare, we contacted Strathclyde Police, representatives at Oban and brought these allegations to their attention."

The Ballet West board said they were unaware of any complaints being raised with the school by The University of the Highlands and Islands.

  • If you have been or are a pupil at Ballet West Scotland and believe you experienced inappropriate behaviour, please contact: ballet@itv.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.