Woman admits to affair with boy of 14

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The affair between a 33-year-old mother and a schoolboy caused outrage and sparked a manhunt on both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Watson-Smyth reports on Tracey Whalin's day in court on charges of abduction and gross indecency.

Mrs Whalin, married with three children, conducted a clandestine affair with the boy - who was then 13 - for a year before they ran away to the United States to start a new life together, a court heard yesterday. They were finally tracked down to a Florida hotel by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a 10-day search and Mrs Whalin was taken to jail in shackles before being allowed to return to England to face charges six weeks later.

In Nottingham Crown Court yesterday she admitted gross indecency with the boy and pleaded guilty to two charges of indecent assault and abducting a child. The judge, Mr Justice Potts, put her on probation for two years on each count, to run concurrently, telling her that he was treating the case as exceptional.

"I fully recognise and give weight to the fact that at all times the boy was a willing and active participant in what went on," he said. "I also proceed on the basis that at all times you and he, to put it at its lowest, were extremely fond of each other. But even these matters cannot excuse the seriousness of what you did." He said that although no one would ever be certain, it appeared that the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had suffered no long-term harm.

Earlier Gregory Dickinson, prosecuting, told the court that the couple's sexual relationship began when the boy became infatuated with the woman and confessed to sexual feelings which she then reciprocated. He said the relationship had progressed rapidly from kissing to full sexual intercourse and continued for more than a year, with the youngster as a "willing and enthusiastic partner".

The couple then planned to go to the US and "remain there indefinitely" he added. They flew to Florida on 15 July this year and spent several days travelling around before renting an apartment in the Florida Keys. They were found after the FBI traced a call the boy made to his mother in England.

James Chadwin QC, defending, said Mrs Whalin was the victim of an unhappy marriage. He said she had had a terrible time after being detained in the US: "She was in shackles in prison. She felt unable to eat she was so miserable and afraid ... There's little doubt she suffered already at that stage substantial punishment." He added that a number of her friends and members of the public had testified to her "excellent" ability as a mother.