A 'RECKLESS and predatory' learning support assistant groomed and manipulated four boys at his school to sexually abuse them, a court heard.

Darren Thornton sent the pupils at Challenge College, Manningham, Bradford, naked pictures of himself after asking them what colour their underwear was.

Thornton, 31, of Alban Street, East Bowling, Bradford, told the boys, aged between 11 and 13, to send him pictures of their private parts, giving one a digital camera.

Prosecutor Camille Morland told Leeds Crown Court yesterday that Thornton's victims were all vulnerable boys with special educational needs.

He contacted them via Hotmail, MSN Messenger, X-Box and text message but avoided Facebook so as not to alert the school.

Thornton, who himself had "a mental disorder and learning disability" coached boys in football after school.

Described by his solicitor advocate Ian Cook as socially isolated, Thornton worked at the college, since renamed Oasis Academy Lister Park, for ten years before he was dismissed.

He pleaded guilty to eight charges of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity by a person in a position of trust and three counts of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, between March 1 and July 1, 2011.

Miss Morland said Thornton was a learning support assistant within the Special Needs Department.

He sent each of the four boys a naked picture of himself and repeatedly asked them to send him indecent photos back. All refused.

Thornton gave one boy £10 and offered him more cash if he did as he asked. He also promised to select him for a football team.

"He was persistent and devious," Miss Morland said.

When a fourth boy also declined to send a picture, Thornton told him he would not be taken on any more football trips.

Miss Morland said one boy no longer trusted his teachers and his school work had suffered.

Others spoke of being caused stress, embarrassment and anxiety.

Mr Cook saidThornton spent his time with his parents and at his church. He had never been in a relationship.

"In many ways, it does smack of childhood curiosity and experimentation," Mr Cook said.

Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC told Thornton: "You were viewed with respect as a person of authority by each of the boys."

He went on: "Your plan was to get these boys to expose themselves to you, not to do anything, but some would say that was quite enough."

Thornton was "reckless and predatory" and had done incalculable harm.

"If you fall back into these wicked ways in the next three years you will answer to me and you will be going to prison for a very, very long time," the judge said.

Thornton was banned from working with children and he must sign on the sex offenders' register for five years.

After the case, A Bradford Council spokesman confirmed the school was Local Authority maintained at the time of Thornton's offending before it converted to Academy status in 2013.

“Schools’ governing bodies have delegated responsibility for their own recruitment and selection of staff. It is not appropriate to comment on any individual,” he said.