May 14, 2021 4.52 pm This story is over 30 months old

Lincolnshire primary school headteacher jailed for sexting ’14-year-old boy’

He sold his home to fund his failed defence case

An “outstanding” primary school headteacher caught sexting and arranging to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy was jailed for four-and-a-half years at Lincoln Crown Court on Friday.

James Shawley, who was head of St Bartholomew’s Primary School at West Pinchbeck, near Spalding, from 2016 until being suspended following his arrest in December 2019, was caught in a sting operation when he contacted a covert police officer posing as a 14-year-old.

Shawley denied four charges but was found guilty by a jury earlier today (Friday) at the end of a three day trial.

He was placed on the sex offenders register for life and barred from working with children for life. Shawley was also given a 15 year sexual harm prevention order.

Shawley was described in court as an outstanding headteacher who had raised standards at St Bartholomew’s as well as two other schools where he was previously assistant head.

The court heard that he continued to be paid his salary while he was suspended and that only ended today (Friday) when he was found guilty.

As well as teaching he was a qualified FA coach and was coach of Spalding Under 11s. He previously coached Bourne Town Juniors.

Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight, passing sentence, said she regarded Shawley’s defence case as “wholly implausible”.

She said that as a headteacher and football coach Shawley knew more than most people the importance of protecting children.

The judge told him: “You have lost your good character, your career and your hobby. That is all down to you. Your life when you come out of prison will be very different.”

Marion Smullen, in mitigation, said the contact was with a fictitious boy rather than an actual 14-year-old.

“The defendant has been an outstanding teacher for the 22 years he has been in the profession.

“He was assistant head at two schools then became head at St Bartholomew’s. On every single occasion he bought those schools up to being outstanding.

“His other passion is football and coaching football. By this conviction he has lost his career and his passion in life. He won’t be able to do either again.”

She said Shawley sold his home to privately fund his defence case and is currently living with his mother.

During trial the jury was told that Shawley sent sexually explicit messages to the “boy” before arranging to meet him at a cinema in Huntingdon with the intention of having sex with him.

Shawley told the jury that he clicked on the “boy’s” profile on a dating site thinking it was someone over 18. He admitted that during chat the “boy” said that he was 14.

Shawley said: “I thought he was an adult pretending to be younger. I didn’t believe he was 14. I didn’t believe anybody of 14 on an adult app would declare their age so soon in the conversation. I thought it was a wind-up.”

Shawley, 45, formerly of Hereward Street, Bourne, and now living in Sheffield, denied two charges of attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and further charges of attempting to engage in sexual activity with a child and attempting to facilitate or arrange a child sex offence. The charges related to dates between December 8 and 23, 2019.

The jury deliberated for just over 90 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on each charge.

Lincolnshire Police’s Detective Inspector Paul Coleman said: “I am really pleased that this has been brought to a successful conclusion, especially given the impact that this has had on the school and the local community. I would like to sincerely thank the officers involved in this case whose sheer diligence has led to today’s result.”

Police said that thankfully no children were harmed by Shawley’s actions, but that child exploitation and online grooming does affect children in the county, with devastating consequences.