Teacher escapes jail for affair with pupil

A WOMAN schoolteacher who ended up in bed with a schoolboy narrowly dodged a jail sentence today.

Bernadette Smith

Bernadette Smith’s infatuation with Gary Ralston, who has waived his anonymity, cost her job and her reputation, Stirling Sheriff Court heard but there was no suggestion Mr Ralston had suffered any long-term harm.

Sheriff Wyllie Robertson told Smith, 35, who kissed Gary, 16, 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.

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Smith, who left court smiling, 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.

Bannockburn High School

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.”

Marriage problems

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.”

In love with pupil

He ordered her to return to court on November 12th for a supervision order review.

Before the case was adjourned for reports, the court heard that Smith told police and colleagues she was “in love” with Gary, whom she had taught and also given after-school tuition.

The affair started in Smith’s classroom at Bannockburn High School, Stirling, where she confessed her feelings to the boy, before the pair went to a park and had their first kiss.

However Gary’s gran found out about the affair and told the school, which suspended Smith immediately.

That night the mother-of-three visited the house Gary shared with his dad, Richard, where she and Gary spent the night together in Gary’s bed.

She later told police that she had told Mr Ralston about her feelings for his son.

Prosecutor Ann Orr said that the sixth year pupil was “regarded as vulnerable” and the school informed the police, who began enquiries.

She said: “In the enquiries it seems to have been established that on the September 19 Smith had gone home at lunch and a colleague sent her a text asking if she was ok.

“She replied saying ‘a lot had happened.’ She sent another saying she was going to leave her husband, she had never got over that he had previously been unfaithful, and she had fallen in love with this pupil.

“The colleague received two more text messages, in which Smith said she couldn’t leave him [Gary], that they wanted to be together and she had stayed at his house the previous night.”

The fiscal told the court that Smith was detained by police after she arrived at the Ralston’s house while they were interviewing Gary.

Mrs Orr said: “She admitted she met him on two occasions outside school and kissed him on the mouth and neck.

“She also admitted meeting at his home and told his father about her feelings and she stayed over night in the boy’s bedroom and that she had been wearing her jeans and a bra.

“She said during the interview that she loved the boy and they both wanted to be together.”

The fiscal said that during Gary’s interview his feelings for her “were some what less clear.”

Struck off

Smith, of Gill Park, Denny, Stirlingshire, pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual activity towards a pupil while in a position of trust, between September 13 and 20 [2013] at Gary’s house in Cowie, Stirlingshire, and at Callendar Park, Falkirk.

Her solicitor, Andrew Gibb, said Smith was currently suspended by the General Teaching Council for Scotland and would be struck off at a hearing in a few weeks’ time.

After Smith pleaded guilty, Gary 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.”