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Headteacher and secretary 'siphoned thousands of pounds from school accounts'

By John Scott | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

A headteacher and her secretary spent up to £16,000-a-time of their school’s money on a series of spending sprees during a fraud, it has been claimed.

Headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth and school secretary Deborah Jones

Michelle Hollingsworth, aged 55, and 57-year-old school secretary Deborah Jones siphoned cash from Annie Lennard Primary in Smethwick for around five years by using the school’s cheques and bogus purchase orders, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

They went to boutiques and stores selling expensive designer goods and antiques as far afield as Nantwich in Cheshire and Ashbourne in Derbyshire, it was heard.

All the time they were using the school’s cheques to purchase a wide range of goods, none of which were suitable for primary schoolchildren, said Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

Then the 55-year-old headteacher told her staff in the Spring of 2015 that the school had no money because it had been short changed by the local authority, it was claimed.

Annie Lennard Primary School

Staff had to buy basic materials with their own money and a pay rise was rejected to try to help balance the books while the two women and other defendants had, or were, “defrauding hundreds of thousands of pounds from the school’s budget,” alleged Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting for Sandwell Council.

Mr Jackson said: “The headteacher used the school’s money and petty cash as her own personal bank for years.

"It seems the alleged dishonesty of others was at her instigation or invitation.”

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Annie Lennard Primary in The Oval, Smethwick had an extension built in 2014 and fake receipts for none existent or grossly overpriced work supposedly done there were another money spinner for the fraudsters, it was claimed.

Andrew Feltham, who ran the double glazing company AB Windows and Burntwood Aluminium Systems, has admitted being involved in a conspiracy to defraud, the jury heard.

Hollingsworth spent more than £2,000 of the cash-strapped school’s money on two oil paintings, one of a beach and the other entitled Barge at Moonlight, alleged Mr Jackson who added: “When questioned she seemed to say that she bought them for the school but kept them at her home.”

The headteacher and sectrary Annie Lennard Primary School

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Nine copper-topped lampposts together with expensive York stone slabs were bought, said the prosecutor, who added that the headteacher allegedly explained the purchase of £63-a-tin pots of paint by saying the school was having a revamp after flooding and that their ‘well-to-do’ parents treated Annie Lennard Primary like a private school.

Receipts were supposedly “sanitised” to make the purchases appear more suitable for primary school pupils with more than £6,000 being spent on one of the shopping trips.

A £130 bag supposedly bought on another of the spending sprees was transformed into five paint dryers and the name of the shop where it was bought had the words ‘education supplies’ added to its title when the bill was submitted to Sandwell Council, it was said.

The purchase of a £875 wing back chair was said to have been intended for use as a storytellers’ chair in the school library but never got there because of health and safety concerns, the court was told.

Items were allegedly put to one side until the cheque was cleared and were then picked up by the pair who refused to have free delivery to the school.

The headteacher’s 57-year-old husband Joseph was accused of using his white van to make some of the collections, which were taken to their home in Hatherton Park, Cannock.

Joseph Hollingsworth

He denies doing anything illegal and also pleads not guilty to receiving fraudulent payments for work he or his firm carried out on the school.

The headteacher’s 53-year-old sister-in-law Fiona Dewsbury, who also lives in Hatherton Park and is employed as a teaching assistant by another school, pleads not guilty to conspiring to receive fraudulent payments for the supply of goods or services connected to the provision of special education needs at Annie Lennard School.

Daniel Feltham, aged 32 from Grove Close, Norton Canes pleads not guilty to creating the name of a company – Unique Building – solely for the purpose of submitting fraudulent invoices for work supposedly done on the school.

Kitchen fitter Steven Roberts, aged 59, from Coppice Barn, Great Saredon, Shareshill also denies receiving fraudulent payments for work he had not done at the school. Two members of staff had to input and authorise school payments and the only two people with access rights to the finance system between June 2009 and October 2015 were Jones and Michelle Hollingsworth, it was said.

Jones, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath has pleaded guilty to conspiring with the headteacher – whose instructions she claimed to have followed – to defraud Sandwell Council and Annie Lennard School but denied all alleged frauds involving other people, the jury heard.

Michelle Hollingsworth denies the conspiracy claiming to have not authorised a single purchase order and pleads not guilty to all the other charges brought against her. She and Jones left the school in 2015.

The case continues and is expected to last up to 12 weeks.

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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