A former pupil groomed by a school worker in west Cornwall has spoken for the first time of the impact that "unforgivable" abuse has had on her life.

Lauren Hill was targeted by IT technician Matthew Townsend when she was an underage pupil at Mounts Bay Academy in Penzance.

He set up false Facebook accounts to send more than 18,000 messages and 500 sexually explicit images and videos to her.

She has now decided to waive her right to anonymity to banish the stigma around the shame felt by those sexually abused and to urge other survivors of abuse not to suffer in silence.

Townsend, who started the abuse when Lauren was just 12 years old, incited her to engage in sexual activity. In 2017 Townsend, then aged 44, from Penzance, was jailed for four years. He was also placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for life.

Following her ordeal Lauren instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help her access the specialist support and therapies she needs to try and come to terms with the abuse.

The firm has since secured her an undisclosed six-figure settlement from Mounts Bay Academy, under whose care Lauren was.

Tom Fletcher, an expert lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who supports survivors of abuse, said: “Townsend groomed and sexually abused Lauren during one of the most crucial periods of her educational development.

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"The gravity of his crimes was summed up by a judge, who when passing sentence in the criminal case, described Matthew Townsend's actions as 'one of the worst cases of grooming' he had ever seen.

“Townsend's deplorable and calculating actions have had a truly devastating effect on Lauren. She was a bright, intelligent and academic pupil who was expected to obtain good grades and had a bright future ahead. What happened had a catastrophic impact on her education as well as most aspects of her day to day living.

“While nothing can ever make up for the horrible abuse she endured we are pleased to have secured her this settlement which will allow Lauren to access the specialist support she requires to try and look to the future the best she can.

“It's also important that others subjected to sexual abuse don't suffer in silence. Support is available and people can rest assured that authorities will always handle their cases in the most sensitive manner.”

Townsend started grooming Lauren when she was in year eight. Over the next two years the abuse escalated. It was uncovered in November 2015 when a pupil saw Townsend kissing Lauren in the school hall. She was just shy of her 15th birthday.

Falmouth Packet:

Lauren has waived her right to anonymity, to help others

Townsend pleaded guilty to five offences: inciting a girl under 16 to perform sexual acts; two counts of intentionally touching a minor; performing a sex act in front of a minor; possessing 240 indecent pictures and 16 videos of a child.

Lauren was in the top set for English and science. She was due to sit 12 GCSEs, which she was unable to do. She later passed three exams with the help and support of the CHES - the Community and Hospital Education Service.

Lauren, who is now 19, has been unable to complete any A-levels to progress onto university due to many debilitating mental health conditions arising from the abuse. She has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, suffers from severe anxiety and depression and still has flashbacks and nightmares.

Lauren said: “I was just a child who didn't know what was going on. It was only when the police sat down and talked to me that I started to realise that I was a victim of sexual abuse and grooming, and they assured me that is was not my fault.

“When everything came out and I had finished doing my police interviews, I thought that should be the end of it, but things just got worse. Living in a small community word soon got around.

"I was constantly bullied, humiliated, embarrassed and subjected to cruel taunts about how it was my fault, even from my closest friends at school. People called me the derogatory names and not him.

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“It couldn't have come at a worse time in my life, educationally and developmentally. I felt I had no choice but to leave school and hide away and I was incredibly isolated.

“This is another reason why I have decided to waive my right to anonymity as I feel that these types of prejudices and ignorance need to be addressed and that people need to be made aware of how damaging their lack of compassion and empathy is to the victims.

“One of the most common reasons for victim blaming is people unconsciously trying to diminish the extent of the crime for self-protection. It's easier for humans to blame a victim than to comprehend that the crime could happen to them.

“With an incredible amount of support from family, counsellors and my legal team I feel that my future is looking much more positive. However, the sexual and mental abuse that I suffered at the hands of this man is completely unforgivable.

“No matter how many 'lessons are learnt' by various institutions and organisations, from these sort of events, it doesn't change the fact that these terrible incidents have happened. It doesn't change the fact that it happened to me and that the trauma will always be woven into my identity.”

The Packet has contacted Mounts Bay Academy for a comment.