A TEACHING assistant who embarked on an affair with a pupil as her marriage collapsed has been handed a suspended sentence by a judge who heard how her life has been ruined.
Helen Turnbull, 35, lost her job and contact with her two children after she admitted one count of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust.
This related to kissing a pupil from the secondary school where she was a literacy assistant, in secret meetings in her Mini convertible.
She sobbed in the dock at Teesside Crown Court when a jury cleared her of three further counts relating to allegations she had sex with him, performed a sex act on him and that she had oral sex.
Judge Peter Armstrong gave her a four month jail sentence suspended for two years, ordered her to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and imposed a restraining order to keep her away from the boy.
Turnbull admitted sending him lewd messages and a picture of herself in her underwear.
They swapped thousands of messages on the internet and Facebook and Turnbull was to admit later that she liked his attention at a time when her personal life was crumbling.
Judge Armstrong said she became “emotionally and physically” involved with the boy when she was unhappy in her marriage to husband Ben. They have since divorced.
She groomed the boy to an extent, the judge said, by building up his trust in her.
He told her: “He was attractive to you, you were attractive to him and unfortunately, a relationship developed which should never have developed. You knew that.
“This was not just a spontaneous coming together, kissing. There was a build-up to it which we have all seen in the considerable messaging traffic which went on between you.”
The judge said the pupil fully consented to the relationship and, had he not been at her school, no offence would have been committed. But students at school attend not to be taken advantage of by older people who may be undergoing personal difficulties.
“I think you were relying on him to a large extent to assist you in your own difficult position.”
The offending was aggravated by the considerable effect it has had on the boy, the judge said.
But it was mitigated by her guilty plea, lack of previous convictions and “commendable” work.
He added: “The consequences of this offence go far beyond that which the court can impose. You have lost your job and effectively your career.”
The judge said she had lost contact with her children.
“I think you feared the worst at the time this was happening but you were unable to prevent yourself getting involved with this young man.”
She must remain on the sex offenders register for seven years.
The restraining order prevents her from contacting the boy, going within 100 metres of the road where he lives and within 100 metres of her former school.
Anne Richardson, defending Turnbull, said: “She clearly has suffered greatly for this utterly foolish and out-of-character behaviour.”
During the eight-day trial, Turnbull, of Haswell, County Durham, told the court: “I have never had sex with (the teenager, who cannot be identified). (He) has never had sex in the back of my car.
“I have never done anything sexual apart from kissing. It just never happened.”
She admitted she liked the attention she got from the boy, and sending flirtatious messages, but said she never intended to have sex with him.
She wept as she told the jury: “The very thought of it... I have been with the same person since I was 20 years old. I haven’t had sex with anyone else.”
Turnbull conceded she had asked the teenager which colour knickers she should wear before a meeting - “pink or yellow”.
And she agreed she had said he would be a “legend” if he had sex with her on her desk, told him kissing him was a “guilty pleasure” and added “clearly, teaching does have its perks”.
But she said the sexting was “all talk” and sex did not happen between them.
Asked if she was in love with him, the teaching assistant replied: “No I was not, I cared about him. When I look back now, I don’t know what I was thinking.”