A nursery manager accused of shaking babies and forcing them to eat vomit claims she is the victim of a hate campaign by colleagues who disliked the fact she is a lesbian.

Laura Pettitt, 27, worked as a senior manager at the Little Stars nursery in Bromley, Kent, for seven years.

A court heard this week that she slapped and shook babies in her care and taunted some with racist abuse, telling them that they “shouldn’t even be in this country”.

It was alleged that the abuse had gone on for three years but other nursery staff were too scared to report her.

When she was arrested in January 2009, she told police that “malicious” colleagues had discovered she was a lesbian.

Other allegations were that Ms Pettitt once fed a young boy with vomit which had fallen on his bib and that she “violently” shook a premature baby.

She is also accused of temporarily smothering babies with blankets when they refused to go to sleep.

Colleague Nicola Fiddler, 20, said her concerns were ignored by the nursery’s management.

She eventually plucked up the courage to call the NSPCC in November 2008 after she allegedly saw a small boy burst into tears after being pushed to the floor by Ms Pettitt.

Croydon crown court was told that other staff at the nursery were much younger than the defendant and were intimidated by her.

Nursery assistant Chloe Neely, 21, said that she had seen Ms Pettitt throw a young boy at a sofa from “one or two metres away”, which left a graze on the child’s face.

Ms Neely said Ms Pettitt told her not to say anything and pretend it was an accident.

She said: “I know it’s bad that I didn’t say anything but I think it shows how intimidating Laura was.

“I let her get away with child abuse for that long. There’s no excuse for not saying anything.”

Ms Neely said that Ms Fiddler had also called Ofsted three times but no one had inspected the nursery.

Ms Pettitt from Beckenham, in south London, denies ten counts of child cruelty between January 2006 and November 2008.

The case continues.