A New Zealander’s teaching career in Britain has been left in ruins after he was found guilty of inciting two former pupils to behave in a sexual way on a webcam.

A jury at Basildon Crown Court found Michael Harding, 35, of Chafford Hundred, guilty of four counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Harding admitted his early-morning online exchange with two 12-year-old girls was highly inappropriate, but said it was not sexually motivated, the Thurrock Gazette reported.

Until his arrest, he was a popular and well respected teacher. He had no previous convictions, and had worked in two primary schools at Thurrock, 45km east of London.

Harding arrived in the UK from New Zealand in December 2001.  He told the court he had stayed in contact with many former pupils through the Facebook website because he was interested in how they were progressing, and to give them moral support.

But in the early hours of May 17 last year he played a game of truth or dare via webcam with two former pupils.  Harding sat with his laptop in the dining room of his flat, while the girls had a sleepover at one of their homes.  He encouraged them to kiss each other on the cheek and belly dance, and asked them if they’d ever fancied any of their teachers.

He enquired about boyfriends, and told them that if they kissed it did not make them lesbians.  When he suggested they leave the room, remove their underwear, and then get dressed again before re-entering the room, they cut off the connection. When Harding was arrested he told police he had been “foolish” after forgetting the girls’ ages.

Judge John Lodge bailed Harding for sentencing in September and warned him jail was “quite likely”.

Harding was told to sign onto the sex offenders’ register before leaving court.