A WOMAN teacher who groomed a 16-year-old schoolgirl into having sex during an illicit relationship has been jailed.

Erin Hebblewhite, who lives in Brighton, sent flirty text messages to a female pupil before they began an “intense and passionate” affair.

A court heard how the teenager shared her first kiss with the 29-year-old PE teacher and even lost her virginity to her.

The pair first had sex in the toilets of a restaurant during a meal out for Valentine’s Day.

Their illicit relationship was exposed after the girl's family confiscated her phone and found messages from Hebblewhite.

Sentencing Hebblewhite to two-years in prison, Judge Neil Sanders said the teacher had left the girl stressed and anxious and contemplating suicide.

Dismissing pleas for a suspended sentence, he said: “I consider the appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody.”

Hebblewhite was working at London Connaught School for Girls when she picked out the pupil as her "favourite".

She then exchanged phone numbers with the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Around 400 images and messages between the pair were recovered by police from a USB stick.

The Argus: Connaught School for Girls in London Connaught School for Girls in London

Prosecutor Fiona Ryan said: "She sent her a text asking if she liked her, and a flirtatious series of messages began in which the teacher made clear she was attracted to her.

“She felt she had given in to pressure to behave more and more sexually.

“The defendant viewed her reluctance as ‘playing hard to get’ but in fact it was because she was inexperienced and nervous.”

Hebblewhite, originally from Australia, broke up with her current partner.

Snaresbrook Crown Court heard how she invited the girl to come and see her.

“She often went to the defendant’s home to have sex”, Ms Ryan said.

“Photographs were taken of the two of them together. [The girl] later said she didn’t really want photos to be taken but felt pressured into making Ms Hebblewhite happy.”

All of the charges of sexual activity took place in the same year that Hebblewhite was shortlisted for London's Sports Teacher of the Year.

The court was told that Hebblewhite had once tried to pressure the girl into having sex in the toilets of a Primark, but the teenager refused.

Hebblewhite pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual activity with a child, sexual activity in the presence of a child and two charges of making indecent photographs.

She is banned from contacting the teenager for the next ten years and will be under a Sexual Harm Prevention Order to stop her working with children or being alone with them.

In a letter to the judge, she admitted being “truly blind to the negative impact” on the girl.

“I can now see the environment I had created – one of pressure and premature sexualisation,” she said. “The damage has been done, I can’t reverse it, no matter how deeply I might want to.”

The court was told that Hebblewhite has since retrained in coding and web development, and has advised Google on educational teaching programmes.

Bethan Rogers, defending, said the criminal charges have “destroyed” Hebblewhite’s promising teaching career.

“She is a good person who made a truly terrible, egregious mistake for which she will pay for years to come”, she said.