Prestigious Ballet West dance school closes after ITV News uncovers allegations of grooming

  • Video report by ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith

Ballet West, a prestigious dance school at the centre of a series of abuse allegations - which was first reported by ITV News - has closed down with immediate effect.

It comes as more than 60 students, staff and parents claimed the school's vice principal Jonathan Barton had groomed teenagers and went on to have sexual relationships with them, with claims going as far back as 2004 and as recently as 2018.

Following the ITV News report Mr Barton resigned from his position but made it clear he refutes all the claims made.

In a statement on Monday, Ballet West said: "The Trustees must today report the saddest news. The Sheriff at Oban Sheriff Court has approved the appointment of a provisional liquidator to Ballet West Ltd."

It later added: "As a Board, we endeavoured to investigate the allegations regarding the Vice Principal and Principal, who is suspended from her post, as fully as possible in the short time available and we have told Police Scotland that we will make all possible information available to them."

"We will also do the same with any regulatory bodies. We wholeheartedly support the police investigation. We are, however, now constrained by these investigations on what we can comment on publicly."

The school added: "We are deeply sorry that any student should have felt that the school had failed them, and we urge anyone who has a complaint to report this to Police Scotland or any relevant body." 

Ballet West, founded in 1991, is a £9,000 a year boarding school located in Taynuilt near the Argyll coast.

A witness who alleges he groomed her when she was 16-year-old told ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith 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. 

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

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."

ITV News also revealed earlier this month that the RAD knew about concerns over Jonathan Barton’s behaviour at Ballet West eight years ago. 

A whistleblower told ITV News 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 ITV News' investigation, Gillian Barton was suspended by the Ballet West board of Trustees pending the school’s external inquiry led by a QC.