A DRAMA teacher who took advantage of a vulnerable pupil and had a lesbian affair with her was jailed for three years today.
Sentencing her, Judge Stuart Baker said French was “well respected” by colleagues and pupils at her former school in Blackpool, and had excellent career prospects, but on the other hand was “manipulative” and “vindictive”.
French, who had moved to Darlington, had denied indecently assaulting the teenager and told her trial in March she was not gay despite contrary evidence from pupils and staff at the school.
However, a jury at Preston Crown Court did not believe her version of events and convicted her of three counts of sexual assault and one count of indecency with a child.
The offences took place between January and April 2004 when her victim was aged 15.
French exchanged rings with the girl and even asked her to refer to her at school as “Danny”, a pretend boyfriend, to mask their affair.
The relationship ended and months later French became intimate with another girl who she taught at a different school in the resort, the jury was told.
She moved into French’s former home in St Annes in September 2004 when she was 16 and a sixth-form student.
They then allegedly began a sexual relationship which lasted three years.
Giving evidence, French said they were not lovers and the girl was her lodger.
A police investigation into the relationship led to the uncovering of the earlier affair, although the girl chose not to complain about the matter.
French intervened to help the girl when she was 13, the court heard.
Judge Baker told the defendant: “She was a vulnerable girl struggling to understand her own sexuality and having a number of problems to cope with. She had a broken family. Her mother suffered from alcohol abuse and she also suffered from bullying at school.
“You were the head of the drama department, you were her drama teacher. She looked to you for support and, while it is right to recognise you did put an end to the bullying, you went on to take advantage of the closeness of the relationship and you encouraged her into an intimate relationship which was completely inappropriate.
“It involved a gross breach of trust.”
With her parents in the public gallery, Judge Baker added that French was “very intelligent, well-educated and came from a good family background”.
He added: “In my view, you have shown yourself to be not only a good teacher and well-respected on one hand, but on the other hand a manipulative, selfish and, when it suits you, a vindictive woman.
“You chose to plead not guilty and that is your right but, by accusing almost all the Crown’s witnesses of lying, you have shown you have no remorse.
“Your career now lies in ruin and your life is ruined as well. You will have a long and difficult struggle to rehabilitate yourself in paid employment.”
Andrew Nuttall, defending, said: “She was a committed teacher with great ambitions and in other respects might have risen to become a headteacher herself.
“She has of course lost her good name, her career, her livelihood.”
The court was told the girl had chosen not to make a victim impact statement and preferred to put the matter behind her.