Ballet teacher accused of abusing pupils seemed like Prince Charming, court told

Dumbarton Sheriff Court Credit: PA

A former pupil of a ballet teacher accused of abuse told how she felt like she was "brainwashed" and believed she had "found her Prince Charming" when he allegedly preyed on her aged 16, a court heard.

Jonathan Barton, 41, is accused of repeatedly having sex with two students at a Ballet West dance school in Argyll while “in a position of trust”, and sexually abusing seven others, between 2004 and 2019.

One of the alleged victims was 15 when the abuse is said to have begun, with the others aged between 16 and 18.

Barton denies all the charges against him.

A dancer who alleges Barton preyed on her when she was 16 during private lessons gave evidence at Dumbarton Sheriff Court on Wednesday, saying becoming a mother made her question whether she was the victim of “grooming”.

She said she joined the school in 2006 and was given private lessons due to her talent, but was bullied by other girls.

The woman said her time at the school was “lonely” and she was desperate to leave until Barton gave her “support”.

She told the court the first time they kissed was after Barton took her to a new room, when her flatmates had locked her out following a private evening lesson.

Ballet West.

She said: “He came in to check on me, we were sitting on the sofa chatting and then we kissed.”

The woman said Barton was “charismatic” and she believed they were in a relationship, although he had a girlfriend who worked at the school, but the witness said she ended things with him herself in June 2007 after he refused to commit.

The complainant said the relationship was known about by other girls who encouraged her to end it, and after she left the school she kept in touch with Barton due to shared professional interests.

She said: “I absolutely hated it and my bags were half-packed. Jonathan was really supportive, he was a bit similar to my mum, ‘keep going, let’s continue, it’s a big change in your life’.

“He kind of took me under his wing and looked after me.”

She told the court they had sex for the first time in Barton’s bedroom in November 2006, and afterwards they cuddled until around 5am when he asked her to leave via a terrace.

The woman became emotional when she told how she felt isolated living away from home and needed support.

She said: “It was just nice to have someone who felt like were there to support you.

“It just felt like I had someone who listened to what I had been through, it was nice to have that support.”

The mother-of-two went to police in 2020, and said having her own children made her reconsider the nature of the relationship and question if it was “grooming”.

She said: “It’s almost like a bubble, it is like a cult, you are brainwashed within that bubble.

“Becoming a parent broke that a bit, I felt like ‘if that was my child it had happened to’. I don’t know if you would call it an affair, because he had a girlfriend.

“I don’t want to be a victim, but was I groomed?

“That brainwashed part says ‘it’s fine’. The mum part of my brain says ‘he took you at a time when you were really vulnerable’.”

The woman described to the court “lingering touches” during lessons and said they kissed during private classes, adding there was no animosity when it ended.

She said: “I felt special, I felt wanted, I was excited, it was as if I was going to have a wonderful relationship with this man who had helped me get through a really difficult time.

“I thought I had met my Prince Charming.”

She told the court she was in contact with a journalist in 2020 and was asked to speak to other dancers.

The court heard Facebook messages showed conversations between Barton and the witness, which were exchanged over a period up until 2018.

In one message, the witness said ‘happy birthday’ to Barton, and they exchanged messages about dancing.

The witness told the court: “I’m not hostile regarding the school, the majority of my time there was incredible with my friends. I’m not hostile towards it, it made me the person I am today. They gave me the chance to dance.

“At the time in 2018 I wasn’t told or made aware he was continuing to sleep with students. I thought he had done his playboy games.”

The court later heard another ex-pupil said Barton “was touchy and held his body too close to mine” while correcting her position, unlike other teachers.

The woman said she had never had a male dance teacher before, and she said Barton touched her for around five minutes with his hands next to intimate areas.

A witness statement was read by Detective Constable Rachel McPike, in which the complainant alleged three “inappropriate” incidents.

It said: “I feel Jonathan was touchy and held his body too close to mine.

“Jonathan would place his hands on my legs to adjust them, he would have his hands very close to my crotch. No other person or teacher would have their hand very close to my crotch or my vagina.

“A normal correction could last a minute, Jonathan would spend five minutes.

“Now when I look back, I think the longer corrections where his hand was close to my vagina was inappropriate. I now think it was something he did to me for sexual pleasure.”

The trial, before Sheriff William Gallacher, continues.


Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...