'I was 15 when I ran away with my teacher, but it wasn't a healthy relationship': A woman who disappeared with her maths master reveals the devastating consequences of their affair
06:37 GMT, 27 September 2012
Sitting in the lounge of her Wiltshire home, Katherine Baillie scans the papers for any news about runaway schoolgirl Megan Stammers.
Her interest is born not out of personal acquaintance — she is not a friend or relative — but from the fact that 12 years ago she found herself in an almost identical situation to the missing 15-year-old.
Like Megan, she, too, was an underage teenager. Like Megan, the man she ran away with, Paul Tramontini, was a maths teacher twice her age.
Teenage runaway: Katherine Baillie, pictured aged 13 (left) disappeared with her maths teacher Paul Tramontini when she was just 15. 'At that age I wanted to be part of a fairy tale,’ she says
And, like Megan, the family she left behind was driven to distraction worrying about what had happened to her.
It is because of her experience that Katherine is one of the few people who can understand that hopelessly misguided sense of naive excitement and adventure — of being carried away by ‘true love’ — that, no doubt, is driving Megan blindly on.
But what she also knows is that those emotions will fade and when they finally do, the hurt inflicted will take years to repair, having spread way beyond the couple at the centre of the unfortunate drama. ‘I met Paul when I was 14,’ says Katherine, now 27.
While they didn’t meet in the classroom, he was a maths teacher at her comprehensive, Mayfield Secondary in Portsmouth, Hants.
The couple’s first, fateful encounter was at a pub gig where Katherine, a budding singer, was performing with her band. As is so typical of teenage girls, the passion she felt for Tramontini was instantaneous and intense.
‘I fell in love with him the first time I saw him,’ she says. ‘I just wanted to get to know him.’
Giving an insight into the emotions Megan may be feeling now, she says: ‘At that age I was very much in love with the idea of being in love. Ultimately, what I wanted was to be part of a fairy tale.’
For her family, and finally for Katherine, too, that fairy tale was to turn into something darker when, in April 2000, they went on the run together for 415 days.
Sleeping rough and busking, as the couple found themselves doing, had never been part of the teenager’s romantic fantasy.
When they finally gave themselves up, Tramontini was sentenced to 18 months in prison for abduction. He ended up serving just half of it.
'I thought I loved him': Katherine split from Paul after five years and is now happily married
While Katherine stood by him, she now admits that from the very first day of their elopement she had secret doubts about their relationship.
Yet, it would take seven years — a fact that would surely chill the hearts of Megan’s parents — for her to work up the courage to walk away from him.
Today, happily married to someone else and living in a pretty three-bedroom townhouse in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, with two cats and a dog, Katherine’s life appears unmarked by her troubled past.
Yet delve deeper and the legacy of her romance with Tramontini becomes more complicated.
She admits she has suffered bouts of depression, has had counselling and has worked as a glamour model, so keen was she to fund an independent lifestyle.
Her relationship with her parents was fractured for many years, though she’s now close to her mum and was reconciled with her father before his death in 2004.
Speak to her about her life with Tramontini and she paints a fascinating picture of what it is like to be a teenage girl who is so sure she knows best and is so determined to get what she wants that she loses all sense of what is acceptable behaviour.
Not least, that it can never be right for a male teacher — who is in a position of power caring for the young — to exploit and seduce an underage girl.
There are many similarities between Katherine and Megan’s stories. While their family circumstances are not the same, both come from broken homes.
'If I met someone who I thought was
going to be my husband in the future, then I was going to be with him,
whatever anyone said. But, as it turned out, the idea that Paul was the right man for me was a fantasy I had created in my head.'
According to her mother, Megan is a ‘vulnerable’ girl who ‘needs to be reassured quite a bit’.
While Katherine describes herself as being a ‘grown-up’ 14-year-old when she met Tramontini, she, too, had vulnerabilities.
Fostered at birth, she would never know her birth mother, who committed suicide when Katherine was three years old.
Looking back, she readily admits that while her adoptive parents Margery and Tom Baillie, from Southsea, Hampshire, showered her with love, she wasn’t the easiest of children.
‘I was difficult to deal with because I was headstrong,’ she says. ‘They were very good parents, but by the age of 14 I saw myself as, well, a woman rather than a girl.
‘I thought I knew what I wanted in life and that I knew exactly what was the right way to live my life.
‘If I met someone who I thought was going to be my husband in the future, then I was going to be with him, whatever anyone said.
‘But, as it turned out, the idea that Paul was the right man for me was a fantasy I had created in my head.’ While any adult would have immediately seen the truth of the situation — that the teacher should have resisted the advances of a smitten teen — Katherine was blinded by what she perceived as love.
Such was his influence over her that even today she tries to exonerate Tramontini for what happened, taking the blame for instigating the relationship.
Others — such as the judge who would brand him ‘every parent’s nightmare’ as he jailed him — have shown less sympathy for the way the then 32-year-old behaved.
After their first meeting, Katherine says she pursued Tramontini.
‘I went to his classroom after school and wrote him letters,’ she says. ‘He just tried to be a friend to me.’
Didn’t it bother her that he was a teacher She says: ‘I thought I loved him and that because I loved him it didn’t matter how old he was or what job he did.’
But it did not take long for gossip about their ‘friendship’ to sweep the school. And, as is emerging in the case of missing Megan, the school authorities and police were aware of the developing relationship.
Hunt: Teacher Jeremy Forrest and Megan Stammers were last seen on CCTV getting on a ferry to France almost six days ago and have vanished without a trace
Indeed, within weeks of their first meeting, Tramontini felt it necessary to leave his job.
In the ensuing months, says Katherine, she often visited his house, pouring out her heart about her problems.
‘I was a troubled soul and Paul became my haven. He didn’t lay a finger on me; he just wanted to help me. When I finally kissed him, after a few months, he tried to pull back, but then admitted that he loved me, too.’
Katherine maintains she was a virgin when she met Tramontini and insists their relationship did not become sexual until she was 16.
Her parents knew what was going on, but, as is so often the case, the more they objected, the more determined Katherine became.
In April 2000, when she was just 15, they ran away for the first time. When she returned four days later, Tramontini was arrested on suspicion of child abduction. Days later, they disappeared together again, not to be seen for more than a year.
Katherine blamed her parents and the ‘system’ for not understanding their relationship.
‘After he was arrested the first time, I thought: “How dare they call the police on him”
‘My logic was that if we were to hang around this is what would keep happening.
‘I thought I’m just going to get away and experience the world. I said to Paul that I loved him and if he wanted to come with me he could. I was going and meant it. And he followed me.’
While she accepts that an adult might have been expected to counsel against her actions, she says she was so headstrong it would not have made any difference.
Naive: The teenager pictured at the age of 14
The couple’s disappearance left turmoil in its wake, as Megan’s family are discovering. The runaways were front page news, Katherine was featured on Crimewatch and ‘missing’ appeals appeared on milk cartons.
Surely she must have appreciated the anguish she was causing her loved ones
Intriguingly, she says that she and Tramontini were so focused on survival that their only consideration was for themselves.
Their first stop was a service station, where she bleached her hair in the toilets and cut it short. In her own words, she became a ‘new person’.
‘When I came back, I was amazed at how much Press it got — I had no idea it was going to be such a big deal,’ she says.
Did she not think her parents would be worried
‘I left a message with a friend saying I was going away and I was going to be fine,’ she says.
The only other contact Katherine had with her parents during her entire time away was a postcard sent from Italy.
She did not go to Italy, but wrote the card and gave it to an acquaintance to post when he went there.
‘I did that to put their mind at rest,’ she says, totally over-estimating what, if any, solace her parents could have drawn from thinking she was hundreds of miles away.
‘At that point I’d seen them on the TV news and thought: “Oh, I hope they are not overly worried about me.” So I wrote that postcard to give them peace of mind.’
In fact, during their 14 months on the run, the pair toured the towns of the South Coast, with Katherine singing and performing magic tricks in the street to make money.
Sometimes they slept in bus stops or even public toilets.
Pushed further, Katherine admits she does feel guilt at the suffering her parents were put through.
‘Now I am older I have more understanding of the sort of worry I must have caused them,’ she says.
‘Not being around, not being there for Christmas and the unnecessary worry, I can certainly see it would be hard for them.’
In the end, realising that if they were going to have a proper life together they would have to give themselves up, they walked into a police station in Portsmouth.
And it did not get much easier when she returned. Katherine vowed to stand by her man whatever.
And though her parents resumed contact with her, they refused to meet him.
Katherine now admits that despite her public utterances that ‘he was The One’, she always had doubts as to whether Tramontini was really the man for her.
‘If I’m honest, I had my doubts from the night we ran away,’ she says. ‘He was different to what I’d expected.
‘I assumed he’d deal with everything. I was fearless and adamant about the decision I’d made and wasn’t questioning it. But I sensed uncertainty in him for the first time and that made me question our relationship.’
'If I’m honest, I had my doubts from the night we ran away,’ she says. ‘He was different to what I’d expected. I
assumed he’d deal with everything. I was fearless and adamant about
the decision I’d made and wasn’t questioning it. But I sensed
uncertainty in him for the first time and that made me question our
During their time on the run, she put those doubts to the back of her mind, but when Tramontini was in prison she had plenty of time to think things through.
‘I wanted to be brutally honest about whether or not he was the right man for me and I decided he wasn’t,’ she says.
If that was the case, why then did she stay with him for the next four years
‘I stayed with him because I still cared for him and he was pretty much all I knew at that age,’ she says.
Katherine describes how the couple gradually grew apart during those years, becoming more like brother and sister.
Living in a caravan, Tramontini worked as a magician while Katherine took a series of jobs including glamour modelling and stripping. She says he did not approve of her choice of employment.
Katherine also had to deal with bouts of depression, for which she had medical treatment.
‘I was coming to terms with the fact that the decision I had taken — which had affected my life, Paul’s life and our families’ lives — could have been the wrong one,’ she says.
When she finally ended the relationship, she says Tramontini begged her not to go.
‘He was saying “I will be with you for ever. I love you”, but the bones of it was that I wasn’t happy being with Paul because he wasn’t the right man for me.
‘Coming to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to stay with him was hard for him. He had different ideas to me. It got to the point I felt free when I wasn’t with Paul.’
Eight months after splitting from Tramontini, she married her husband, who is seven years her senior.
She says he has brought her stability and real happiness.
She continues to work in the entertainment industry. The drive and determination she once showed in pursuing her maths teacher, she says she now devotes to business. One day, she hopes to have children.
Given what she has experienced, what would she do if in the future her 14-year-old daughter were to announce she wanted to be with a male teacher more than twice her age
‘When I met Paul I thought he was the love of my life,’ she says. ‘But I know that was a fairy tale.
‘When you’re young you don’t know anything. My parents were trying to say I was too young to know what love is and, yes, I suppose they were right.’
Since splitting up, Katherine has kept in intermittent contact with Tramontini and occasionally speaks to his parents, though she does not know where he is living.
‘It’s hard to look back and have lasting regrets because the relationship made me what I am today,’ she says.
‘But it wasn’t a healthy relationship and it was hard to pick up the pieces afterwards. It’s only now with my husband that I am learning what it is to be truly in love with someone.
‘When people asked me if I loved Paul, I always said: “Yes, of course.” But it’s only now that I’m older that I know that wasn’t true.
‘Looking back, I realise that while there were some good times in our relationship he just wasn’t the right man for me.
‘I really wanted to love him because of the pain we had caused so many people, but that’s no basis on which to spend your life with someone.
‘While I wouldn’t have done things differently, that’s not to say that I would advocate what is going on with Megan because every situation is different.
‘This might be an exciting adventure for her or it might be deeply traumatic. All I can say from my experience at that age is that I didn’t have the necessary knowledge to make such a huge decision as running away.’
Without knowing the detail of Megan’s home life, Katherine says she does not feel in a position to offer the runaway any advice.
But if Megan were to read Katherine’s story, she might realise that fairytales that involve schoolgirls and maths teachers don’t often have happy endings.
One in six people surveyed say they know someone who had an ‘intimate relationship’ with a teacher when they were at school