Tayside and Central Scotland

Teacher Bernadette Smith avoids jail over sexual activity with pupil

Bernadette Smith Image copyright Tim Buglar
Image caption Bernadette Smith was told she was lucky not to be jailed

A female schoolteacher who admitted leading one of her pupils into bed has narrowly dodged a jail sentence.

A judge told Bernadette Smith her infatuation with Gary Ralston was a serious breach of trust and she was lucky not to receive a jail sentence.

The 35-year-old told the court that her marriage had broken down and she was "in love" with the schoolboy.

She will be placed on the sex offenders register and struck off from her job by the General Teaching Council.

Smith pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual activity towards a pupil while in a position of trust, between 13 September and 20 September last year at Gary Ralston's home in Stirlingshire, and also at Callendar Park, Falkirk.

Sheriff Wyllie Robertson told Smith, who kissed 16 year-old Gary and lay beside him wearing only jeans and a bra, that she had committed a serious abuse of trust, and only the fact that she had not gone further had saved her from a jail sentence.

Smith was placed under supervision for two years as part of a community payback order. She will remain on the sex offenders register for the same period.

After reading background reports, Sheriff Robertson said that her conduct was towards the lesser end of the scale for sex offences covered by the type of charge to which she had pled guilty.

He added: "Some of course may say that had it not been detected it could have led to more serious activity towards the other end of the scale, but that is speculation.

"It is serious enough of course when a teacher admits this kind of conduct towards a pupil. We expect teachers to ensure that children under their care are safe from abuse, and that has not happened."

'Breach of trust'

Sheriff Robertson told Smith that it may have been that "difficulties within your marriage contributed to this aberration", but he said many other teachers coped with marriage difficulties without resorting to what he called "this frankly bizarre course of behaviour."

He told Smith: "You have lost your reputation, your job and your career, and your marriage is at an end.

"You have caused distress to your immediate family, and with the media attention that this case has attracted, I suspect that your humiliation is complete."

Sheriff Robertson said it was to Smith's "credit" that she had not sought to blame her victim for what happened, and she was assessed as at very low risk of re-offending.

The sheriff added: "I have no material before me that suggests there is any long-standing adverse impact on the victim.

"Nothwithstanding the breach of trust and gravity, it is not necessary to impose a prison sentence for this offence - but let me make it absolutely clear, however, that it would not have taken your conduct to have gone much further for a prison sentence to be inevitable."

After Smith pleaded guilty, schoolboy Ralston said that he didn't know how the affair had happened, but said that before it, she was always his favourite teacher.

He said: "I was thinking I was quite lucky. A lot of the boys fancied her. I couldn't believe she was with me.

"It was the last thing I expected. She said she thought she was going crazy but couldn't help the way she was feeling."

The judge ordered Smith to return to court on 12 November for a supervision order review.

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