A teaching assistant who had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old has walked free from court and not been ordered to sign the sex offenders register - because he thought she 16.
Andrew Tetley, 28, from Leyland, developed a relationship with the victim after she took a liking to him, sending each other explicit images of themselves.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, did not have sex with him but they kissed and he groped her and they discussed where they could have sex.
Tetley, who worked at a Chorley area school, believed she was 16, Preston Crown Court heard.
He pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child as a person in a position of trust. But he walked free from court yesterday after having a six-month jail term suspended for two years. Judge Andrew Woolman said he suspended the sentence because Tetley thought the girl was 16.
Lisa Worsley, prosecuting, said the relationship came to light when the school’s assistant headteacher heard rumours of a sexual relationship.
Miss Worsley said: “As a result of hearing these rumours, (the assistant headteacher) spoke to her and her phone was taken from her.
“On looking at the contacts it transpired that Mr Tetley’s mobile number appeared in there under the name ‘Andy’.”
Miss Worsley said that the girl explained her first contact with Tetley was via Instagram - a social network where you send pictures from your mobile. “Initially they talked about career stuff and had a laugh,” said the prosecutor. “She regarded him as good looking.”
The court heard that over a period three months, the pair met up twice, and both occasions were initiated by the girl, who was weeks away from her 16th birthday. During these meetings, they sat in Tetley’s car and talked and kissed, and on one occasion he groped her.
Miss Worsley said: “She said it was proper kissing, with tongues, and she was happy with what he had done.”
During a police interview, the girl said the pair had exchanged a series of explicit messages involving their sexual fantasies and where they could have sex.
“He asked for photos of her and there were very sexual conversations,” Miss Worsley added. “She sent him pictures of her upper body naked and in underwear and he sent pictures of his top body. After a bit they both realised it was wrong and tried to stop.”
Defending him, David Traynor said Tetley believed the girl was 16 years of age and contact was established by her rather than the defendant.
He said: “The meetings were suggested by the girl rather than the defendant.
“There was no element of coercion at any stage and it’s the defendant that broke off contact a month or so prior to his arrest. His employment has gone, his reputation has gone and he’s going to struggle in future to get other forms of employment.”
Sentencing Tetley, who pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child as a person in a position of trust between September and January 2014, Judge Woolman said: “You were in a position of trust and you knew perfectly well you should have been the one saying no and putting a stop to contact of an indecent nature. Certainly when she suggested meeting you, you should certainly have said no and recognised that was a breach of trust in the highest order.”
He added: “You are 28 years old, a bright young man and you have rather wrecked your future for the moment. It’s unnecessary to deprive you of your liberty immediately.”
Tetley was ordered to pay a victim surcharge and Judge Woolman said he was not required to sign the sex offenders’ register at the sentencing yesterday.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council previously said as soon as allegations came to light, he was suspended from his job immediately.