A care home worker, whose job it was to look after vulnerable children, has been jailed after she pleaded guilty to sending graphic sexual images to and inappropriately touching a 16-year-old girl under her care.

Kelly Stowell, of St Mary’s Avenue, Barnoldswick, Pendle, pleaded guilty to three counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity with a person in a position of trust, and was sentenced at Preston Crown Court on Thursday.

The offences date back to a period in 2018, when Stowell, now 41, was working at a children’s care home in Lancashire, where she abused the trust of a vulnerable teenage girl under her care, calling her ‘special’ and telling her she ‘needed her in her life’.

Prosecuting, Huw Edwards, said Stowell had waited until the girl turned 16 before contacting her via social media, where messages were exchanged, which included graphic naked images of the defendant and conversations about masturbation.

Mr Edwards told the court: “They would lie on top of each other, and the defendant would tell the girl ‘things she wanted to hear’, telling her she was 'special' and she 'needed her in her life', and this is when the first sexual activity took place – first touching on top of clothes and then underneath clothes.

“There was a time when they were watching TV together in front of other residents and began touching each other underneath a blanket.

“Originally, the victim told one of her friends she was ‘buzzing’ as she had a woman interested in her, but then told the care home manager that she had done something bad, and confessed to what had happened.

“She told the manager she had been the one to touch the defendant and that she felt bad on the other kids and didn’t want Kelly to go to prison.”

Mr Edwards said Stowell accepted she had entered into an intimate relationship with the victim and knew it was highly inappropriate.

In a witness statement, the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said she had felt anxious and depressed after the incidents and wrote a very emotional letter to the police detailing how the events had affected her mental health.

In mitigation for Stowell, who has no previous convictions, Andrea Lock said: “This is not simply a situation where she was trying to manipulate a young person, there was genuine affection between them and she found it difficult to extricate herself from the relationship.

“It was a one off where she has felt genuine affection, and that’s completely inappropriate and she has accepted that from the outset.”

In sentencing Stowell to 12 months in prison, Judge Guy Mathieson said in his mind the offences involved the grooming of a vulnerable child while Stowell was a key care worker.

He said: “The touching itself is relatively modest but that does not reflect the seriousness of your conduct.

"You provide vital support for people that are vulnerable who rely on your confidence and trust.

“What you did was not love, or romance, or a relationship of equals, you took that responsibility and used it to abuse that child – if that was not for your own sexual gratification, well, I believe that is a lie you tell yourself to justify what you did.

“You are in denial about what you have done. The messages only started when she turned 16 but to say you were not strong enough to see where the line was is an insult to the victim.

“I can only hope she has begun to put these troubling incidents behind her.

“You are struggling to come to terms with your behaviour and it has effectively destroyed your life – you have lost your employment, and it has impacted your relationship with your own children.”

As well as a 12 month custodial sentence, Stowell was made subject to a 10 year notification requirement and was barred from working with vulnerable children indefinitely.