Music teacher Liam Birch sentenced to 11 years in prison after treating school students

A music teacher guilty of a campaign of rape, abuse and grooming against six female students has been jailed for 11 years.

Matthew Birch, who saw girls as ‘fair game’, lashed out at his victims while working in secondary schools in North Lanarkshire and Fife.

The 45-year-old former police officer was first described as a “fun teacher” and a “father figure”.

But jurors heard how Birch targeted girls who had musical talent but often had personal issues.

On Thursday, Birch was sentenced by the High Court in Glasgow.

The 11-year sentence imposed by Judge William Gallacher was the same length of Birch’s abuse.

He had previously been convicted of nine counts, including rape and sexual activity while in a position of trust between 2006 and 2017.

The judge told Birch: “You have been convicted of a series of appalling crimes amounting to grooming, manipulating and abusing girls of whom you were in a position of trust.

“You looked for girls who had difficulties or problems in their lives.

“Under the guise of supporting them, you brought them under your influence.

He added that he had to consider the “past, current and lasting impact” Birch had on the victims.

A number of them attended Thursday’s hearing and sobbed with relief when their attacker was jailed.

In a rare gesture after sentencing, Judge Gallacher thanked them for returning to court after reliving their ordeals at trial.

They were too upset to comment after the case.

Jurors heard how the shamed teacher joined the Lanarkshire school in 2006.

In her closing speech, prosecutor Erin Campbell said, “He systematically targeted vulnerable female students, befriended them, and positioned himself in their lives as a confidant.”

The trial heard how he called a girl ‘fair game’ in a text.

Ms Campbell said: ‘This evidence confirms exactly how Matthew Birch viewed the students in the schools he taught at.

Birch also bragged about wanting to teach sex education because he was “so good at sex”.

The first victim shared how much she loved Birch, adding: “He made me grow and made me feel better about myself.”

He pretended to be a part-time photographer and suggested taking pictures of her to supposedly boost his self-esteem.

But Birch instead went to her house and raped the teenager after handcuffing her.

Birch quickly turned his attention to another girl from his then flat in Edinburgh while his girlfriend was away.

He again used handcuffs, filmed what they were doing and asked the student to call him “sir”.

Jurors heard that further sexual activity with the girl took place in a school closet and while traveling with other students.

He then insisted he ‘couldn’t do it anymore’ as he was going to propose to his girlfriend on holiday in the Far East.

Despite his claims, more girls have been subjected to sexual comments or sexually assaulted.

One – who featured in a charge that has been withdrawn – said: ‘Mr. Birch liked to select girls carefully.

“He seemed to have a knack for knowing when you were vulnerable and that was when he was most interested.

“If anything changed in your life, he wouldn’t be around as much.

He wouldn’t give you the kindness he had until you were weak again.

Birch allegedly told a teenage girl that “her butt looked good.”

Another had apparently “rolled his eyes” as he noticed a student’s breasts.

The abuse flew under the radar and Birch moved to school in Fife.

He was aiming for the ultimate victim.

She ended up “emotionally dependent” on the school’s music department and “leaned heavily” on Birch.

But, the manipulative professor groomed this girl and struck for the first time after driving to her current home in Falkirk, Stirlingshire.

As she was being raped, the victim remembers: “I literally did nothing. I couldn’t move.

It happened again at his home before Birch committed a separate sexual attack near a cricket ground in Fife.

The young girl went to a main teacher at the end of 2018 to report her ordeal.

Prosecutor Ms Campbell told jurors: “She confided in her, but she was not believed.

“(This teacher) didn’t report it to anyone and went straight to Matthew Birch.”

After hearing nothing, the same young woman returned in 2019 to the school she had now left and this time spoke to a principal.

The police were called and an extensive investigation was set up to find the other victims.

Many had believed they were the only ones Birch abused. Two have since become teachers themselves.

Ms Campbell said if the latest victim did not return with her complaint, Birch could still be a teacher.

In her remarks, Ms Campbell added: “Birch cultivated addictions, he ensured girls’ loyalty by creating a culture of being their friend and a central part of their support network.

“He’s a predator… his prey is a particular type, 14-17 year old girls, musical talents, troubled lives and difficulties at home.”

Gordon Martin, defending, said Birch maintained his innocence.

The lawyer added: ‘He is expected to appeal against the conviction.

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