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1 February 2010, 12:47 | Updated: 1 February 2010, 12:51
A Suffolk-based supply teacher, who worked at a private girls school, has been spared an immediate jail term for sexually grooming one of his teenage pupils after she developed a crush on him.
A judge said John Cope, 44, failed to exercise "absolute control'' by trading flirty text messages and chatting online and on the phone with the girl. The exchanges started after the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, confided in him that she "fancied someone she shouldn't'' and he guessed she meant him. At the time, Cope, of Stow Road in Ixworth, near Bury St Edmunds, worked as a supply IT teacher at Brighton and Hove High School in East Sussex. During a four-day trial at Lewes Crown Court last December, jurors heard their topics included oral sex, the loss of Cope's virginity at the age of 15 and flavoured condoms. Cope was convicted of sexual grooming but cleared of two counts of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity between January and May 2008.
Sentencing him to a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, Judge Michael Lawson QC said: "This young girl found your apparent concern such she became attracted to you. It was just that situation that the law requires you to
exercise absolute control. You didn't. You chose to indulge yourself by inappropriate language, inappropriate gestures and conversation. You groomed her, as the jury found, with other matters no doubt in mind but you were acquitted of the other two offences. You have done damage to that child, you have done damage to that family who can ill afford to have the extra
problems associated with your selfish behaviour.''
In one text, the girl told Cope about wanting to lose weight, to which he replied: "We can find another way for you to burn calories.'' Their relationship never developed into a sexual one as the girl's mother found out about their contact after reading a text message the girl received late at night. She confronted her daughter, who insisted Fred was a boy she had met in Essex, but her parents established he was in fact a teacher at her school. They called police who analysed both Cope and the girl's phones, and he was sacked following his arrest in May 2008 after being employed at the school through an agency.
Cope, who gained an IT degree from Anglia Polytechnic University and an MBA from the University of Brighton, said in his defence that he only wanted to help the girl through a troubled phase and denied planning to groom her as a future sexual partner.
Cope was ordered to attend a sex offenders programme, will be electronically monitored with a curfew, ordered to pay costs of £1,000 and made the subject of a 10-year sexual offences prevention order which bans him from working with children.