An Exeter woman has been jailed for three years for a campaign of harassment against a young girl, which a judge said was the most wicked crime he had ever seen.
The young girl and her mother are now trying to rebuild their lives after an 18-month campaign of harassment by Kathryn Skinner, the woman they thought was a trusted family friend.
Skinner, now 40, spiked children's drinks at birthday parties and put razor blades in school bags and lockers so her friend's daughter would get the blame.
She stole money and planted it in the young girl's bedroom, slashed the family's clothes and even faked hate mail from the youngster claiming she was being mistreated by her mother.
She did it in such a way that the youngster would be wrongly blamed - and she watched as the distressed girl was excluded from school, put into therapy and came close to being taken away from her distraught parents.
The campaign of terror began when the girl was only six years old.
Her worried mother, who sought help from the school, therapists and social services, confided in Skinner throughout the ordeal and was devastated to learn that her friend had plotted it all.
Judge Graham Cottle told Skinner, at Exeter Crown Court yesterday: "The story of this case almost defies belief. I do not believe I have previously dealt with a case which matched this for wickedness.
"The principal victim was a poor, helpless child. Yours were the actions of a warped and twisted mind."
Skinner had pleaded guilty to two charges of harassing the girl and her mother for more than a year.
She also pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm against the young girl between February 2003 and June last year.
And she admitted stealing £60 from the girl's mother and another charge of stealing £170 from the woman in 2003.
Detective Constable Nicci Bailey, the officer in the case, told the Echo: "These were calculated and callous acts intended to have an innocent young girl blamed and labelled as a vindictive and evil person."
Skinner eventually confessed once police were closing in, after an investigation revealed the crimes were too sophisticated to have been committed by a child.
The girl's mother is still trying to understand why her friend betrayed the family so badly. She has spoken to the Echo to thank her family, friends and DC Bailey for their support through the ordeal.
She said: "Kathryn Skinner was a close friend and I had known her for 14 years. I thought she was helping our family through it and supporting us but all the time she was twisting the knife."
The mother said: "A £20 note which had gone missing turned up in my daughter's bedroom and I found blank cheques ripped up at my home.
"It became worse when I discovered the curtains had been slashed in my daughter's room. Every pair of curtains except one in the house were then ripped and slashed."
Over the next 18 months, more than 100 items of clothing were slashed - including Skinner's when she visited the house - and even the mother's pillow was targeted.
"I found some clothes badly damaged that we had only just bought and were still in the shop bag," said the mother. "A fork had been used and was still sticking out of the clothes."
Keys, mobile phones, remote control handsets and Sky TV satellite cards were damaged and disappeared.
A knife was found sticking into the wires of a vacuum cleaner, blowing electrical fuses in the house.
The girl's father even discovered his new equipment had been wrecked when he went out fishing.
"Both my husband and I started locking knives and scissors away. We put a lock on our bedroom door. We even had to padlock the kitchen knives," said the woman.
Damage was then done with tweezers, forks and nail clippers instead. The girl was referred to the county's Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services for therapy.
The spotlight then turned on the family and whether the parents' behaviour was somehow to blame.
"Our marriage was under extreme pressure," said the woman. "It was completely destructive for the family, we were suspicious of each other. Our daughter had always been a child who had hated upsetting or hurting people.
"She was still loving but became very tearful, moody and wasn't sleeping."
She added: "Kathryn would be nice to my daughter and sit there watching, while I was telling my daughter off.
"I remember thinking she was better with my daughter than I was. "At the time I thought I couldn't have got through it without Kathryn's support. I even said to her 'it's so great you're still my friend after everything you have been through with my daughter.'
"There wasn't anything to show that she was responsible."
The harassment took a turn for the worse when it moved beyond the home.
Tablets were discovered in another child's bag at the girl's school and another bag had been slashed.
Knife blades were found in the girl's locker and her mother discovered empty blister packs of tablets in the youngster's bedroom bin.
"I was so concerned about the danger to other children that I told the school about it," said the mother. "My daughter then had to be searched daily before she left home and when she got to school by a classroom assistant.
"I would check her shoes and clothes but the blades still turned up. I asked social services for help but they said it was beyond their remit."
The girl was excluded from school after drinks were spiked again at a child's birthday party.
The mother said: "The school said she was not allowed back there and must stay home for a month. She could then only go back part-time - and this continued for five months."
The family were on the verge of breakdown and decided to go on holiday abroad - but the father was unable to go because his passport had been ripped up.
"Kathryn even offered to lend us clothes because so many had been damaged," said the woman.
The distraught mother was now taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills to cope.
Some of the anti-depressants disappeared from her handbag and were found in a drink at another child's birthday party.
Tablets and razor blades were found in one girl's pockets and three anti-depressants in another's.
"All the kids were terrified and crying at school the next day," said the mother.
"My daughter told me that she thought she must be doing these things in her sleep."
Skinner even wrote letters pretending to be the girl.
On a visit to a city supermarket, she showed the mother one that she claimed to have found in the toilet. It said the girl had being badly treated by her mother.
"Social services were about to take my daughter away but by now the police were involved," said the woman.
The woman said that Skinner told her that she had a secret to share, once the police began investigating the case, but decided against confessing at the last minute.
Instead, her husband told the girl's mother when she was giving him a lift home - and Skinner burst into tears when they arrived.
"It all made sense," said the woman. "I was shocked but I had begun to realise it wasn't my daughter and now I knew why. I thought I had the child from hell and to know someone else who I had trusted was responsible made it even worse."
Now the family are trying to move on. The girl's mother says she wishes there had been more support from the social services and education authority rather than her daughter being blamed.
"We've got a lot of work to do," said the mother. "My daughter is left with a feeling of not trusting people and she is angry at me. She is behind with her education, finds it difficult to make friends and has stomach aches and headaches.
"Kathryn Skinner spent 18 months destroying a little girl's trust."
DC Bailey praised the family for sticking together.
"They have been under enormous pressure," she said. "They have shown great resilience. The young girl has shown great courage and is now having to work hard to gain back the trust of all the people who doubted her.
"It is impossible to measure the long-term effects on her. The police hope she and her family can start to rebuild their lives."