A woman teacher who had a “plainly unacceptable” sexual relationship with a female pupil has walked free from court.
Hayley Southwell, 27, and her victim were “counting down the days” until her 16th birthday but had been seeing each for about six months beforehand.
The teacher at Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton, Cumbria, was arrested in January after the school received a phone call informing them of the relationship between the pair.
Southwell, of Birkby, Maryport, later pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a young person aged between 16 and 18 while in a position of trust.
The police investigation did not uncover any evidence that sexual activity took place before she turned 16, Carlisle Crown Court heard.
But Judge Peter Hughes QC said Southwell had shown “a degree of planning and grooming” as it was revealed a large number of “intimate and explicit” text messages, photographs and moving images were shared between the two.
Sentencing her to a 12-month jail term, suspended for two years, Judge Peter Hughes QC told her: “Anyone who chooses a career in teaching knows that it is wholly incompatible with that profession to have an inappropriate relationship with a pupil or student. That is what you did.
“There was in what you did a degree of planning and in my view grooming because this was a relationship that began before the girl concerned was 16 years old.
“It was quite apparent from the text messages that you and she were waiting for her to reach that birthday before you started an active sexual relationship.”
He said that thereafter the relationship was “rather unattractively” recorded both in still and moving images and that was a “a significant aggravating feature”.
Judge Hughes said it appeared to be a case of “mutual affection” but he pointed out that adolescent boys and girls were vulnerable to the attentions from an older and sexually more aware person.
He said contact of this nature was “plainly unacceptable and is potentially dangerous”.
But the judge said he had taken into account in Southwell’s favour her “powerful points of mitigation” such as her previous good character and exemplary professional conduct and her early guilty plea.
Southwell, who cried when the judge announced she would not go to jail, was ordered to be placed on the Sex Offender Register for 10 years.
She is banned from working with children and will also have to abide by a 12-month supervision order.
Greg Hoare, prosecuting, said Southwell made no comment when interviewed by police who seized a phone and two iPads from her home address.
A large number of images of the pair together from various trips around the country, including to Alton Towers theme park, were uncovered, he said.
Many of the images were of “an intimate sexual nature” as were text messages exchanged between the pair.
Mr Hoare said the girl, who is no longer a pupil at the school, was not prepared to co-operate formally with the investigation by providing a statement but did admit to a detective that the pair had been in a relationship.
Her parents had also not been forthcoming in making their views on the subject known to the court.
David Polglase, defending, said: “All that she has worked for and achieved and could have gone on to achieve in the teaching profession is now lost to her.
“She will have to live with that forever.”
He pointed out it was a consensual relationship and it was not a case of grooming where the victim was “bombarded with unwanted texts and Facebook messages”.
Her teaching career was at an end but she had received a conditional offer of employment as a carer of adults, said Mr Polglase.
Submitting 10 references to the judge regarding her good character, he argued the court “should not deprive society of somebody who has so much offer”.
He said it could also be argued she had shown “a degree of bravery” in admitting the offence after previously hiding her sexuality from her mother and others.
The court heard that Southwell resigned from her teaching post last month.
She made no comment as she left court.