A teacher broke down in tears as she was jailed after admitting to a sexual relationship with a pupil – in the same year she was shortlisted for an education award.
Disgraced sports tutor Erin Hebblewhite, 29, admitted to seven charges, which involved abusing her position to groom and sexually abuse a teenager.
The victim, under the age of 18, said this was the first time she had ever kissed anyone and also said she lost her virginity to Hebblewhite in a restaurant bathroom.
All of the charges of sexual activity with the girl, who cannot be named, including kissing on the premises of the school, took place in the same year Hebblewhite was put forward for a teacher of the year award.
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Gossip had spread during the course of the relationship, and – believing the rumours to be untrue – the school even warned Hebblewhite to be “careful” otherwise she could “get into trouble”, Snaresbrook crown court heard.
The offending came to light when the teen’s phone was seized by her mother and a family member found explicit messages, despite pleas from Hebblewhite for the girl to delete them.
Four charges relate to sexual activity with a girl aged between 13 to 17 and abusing her position of trust, with the fifth charge being sexual activity in the presence of a teenager.
The other two charges are for the taking and possession of indecent photographs of a girl under the age of 17.
Prosecutor Fiona Bryan said: “To this defendant [the complainant] had her first kiss and lost her virginity.
“[The complainant] explained that she did feel pressurised and felt like she had given in to pressure to behave more and more sexually from the defendant.
“Ms Hebblewhite viewed it as playing hard to get but actually this was because she (the teen) was inexperienced and nervous.
“Around Valentine’s Day, they went on a date. On that date, they had sex by digital penetration in the lavatory of the restaurant.
“The complainant had been a virgin up to that point.
“She was required to hide the relationship from everyone and this alienated her from her peers including from her best friend who she had known since they were 10 years old.
“Moving forward into May and June, the defendant broke up with her partner who moved out and that allowed [the teenager] to come over and this became a regular occurrence.
“[The teenager] often went to the defendant’s home – this included digital penetration and oral sex.
“Photographs were taken of the two of them together. She said she didn’t want them to be taken but she felt pressurised.
“The other occasion was when Ms Hebblewhite tried to pressure her into having sex in the toilets in Primark.
“She said no but recalled her being forceful and persistent.”
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Ms Bryan added: “This relationship came to an end because [the complainant’s] family found out and that triggered police being notified.
“In the course of this, [the complainant’s] phone being taken by her family and this all coming to light, the defendant’s concern was for her own position. She begged the girl to delete the messages and erase her phone.
“She was arrested on 28 October, her home was searched and a USB stick containing 400 relevant images including both the defendant and [the complainant] naked and in bed together as well as images of them kissing as a couple.”
Bethan Rogers, in mitigation, said: “She did not believe that at the time she saw her behaviour as forceful and grooming.
“She accepts this did play a part in her behaviour. She has not tried to mitigate the impact of what she has done, however.
“She is painfully aware the damage to the victim is both wide-ranging, long-lasting and likely to be there for a significant period of time.
“Nonetheless, there was genuine affection and caring on her part.”
She added: “Through her selfishness and her stupidity, this defendant has utterly destroyed what was a promising career.”
Judge Neil Sanders, passing sentence, imposed a 10-year restraining order and sexual harm preventing order banning her from contacting the victim or working with children in any capacity.
He also jailed Australian Hebblewhite for two years with all charges to run concurrently.
He said: “You sent her a text asking if she liked you. From that point, the relationship developed.
“It developed into flirtation, with you calling her a heart throb and the sexual encounters began.
“This involved kissing in the school premises and [the complainant] felt she was pressurised and she gave in.
“You went on a date in a restaurant and that was the first occasion in which there was sex by digital penetration.
“There were rumours going around the school and, in fact, the school warned you to be careful as you could get into trouble.
“When you split up with your partner, [the complainant] would go to your house and the sex would continue in your house.
“She had pictures taken of her. She felt she needed to do so to make you happy.”
He continued: “I have read the victim personal statement and can summarise as such the areas [the victim] describes is feeling guilty and shame and depression, PTSD and feeling suicidal.
“She describes the interruption of an important time of education and development.
“She talks about the damage to her relationships of her friends, family and her best friend. She says she struggles with adult relationships and she found the criminal process an ordeal.
“I consider the right starting point for the totality of this offending would be three years imprisonment.
“You pleaded guilty at the first reasonable opportunity so you are entitled to full credit. I reduce this to two years.
“I have to consider whether to suspend that sentence or not.
“Given the number of your offences, I consider the appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody.”
Hebblewhite, from Brighton, wearing a navy suit and cream jumper, broke down in tears and tried to speak to her girlfriend who was supporting her from the public gallery.
The complainant attended the sentencing hearing alone but was supported by a police victim support officer.