School office computer went missing as fraud investigators moved in
Teachers were reimbursed for money spent on classroom resources with cheques far in excess of what they were owed, a court heard.
Staff were then asked to return the outstanding balance – amounting to hundreds of pounds – in cash to the school office, it was said.
A trial has been told that this was part of an elaborate money-making fraud involving Michelle Hollingsworth, 55-year-old headteacher of Annie Lennard Primary in Smethwick, and the school's secretary Deborah Jones, 57, over a period of around five years.
Teaching assistant Debbie Kirk told Wolverhampton Crown Court that she submitted receipts for just under £100 for educational resources she had paid out of her own pocket to be reimbursed with a cheque for £939.81.
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When she queried the amount, the head told her it was "better to have one cheque than lots of individual ones because lots of people in school are owed money," she said.
Mrs Kirk also told the jury she bumped into Deborah Jones, who managed the school finances, carrying a computer tower to her car and that after a brief chat with her, Jones had circled the car and returned to school still carrying the tower.
The court has heard that two days later, at a time when concerns about a potential fraud had already been aired, Jones announced that her computer tower had gone missing from the office.
Mrs Kirk reported what she had seen to the head "because it seemed odd". She told the court: "It stuck in my mind it was something wrong."
Months after Hollingsworth and Jones were suspended in October 2015, Mrs Kirk said she came across bags of children's clothing, with labels still attached, stored in the school nursery.
Asked whether they could have been related to pupils' uniforms, Mrs Kirk replied: "No, they were all very pretty, nice, expensive clothing for young children aged 18 – 20 months. Normally we just get hand-me-downs from the parents."
She was also asked to cover the office "a lot" when the two women went out for the day together, she said.
Teacher Melanie Bavin told the jury she provided receipts for under £20 for items she had bought for classroom use to be reimbursed with a cheque for £331.57.
She said: "I was asked to take the cheque for that amount to keep costs down because cheques cost money."
Mrs Bavin paid the cheque into her own bank account and withdrew the overpayment, as requested. When she returned the balance to the office and offered to redistribute it to other staff members who were owed money for materials, she said: "I was told it wasn't needed."
Others, including tradesmen and family members, are alleged to have been involved in the financial racket.
Jones, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath admits conspiring with the headteacher to defraud Sandwell Council and the school but denies all alleged frauds involving other people.
Hollingsworth, of Hatherton Park, Cannock, denies the conspiracy and all the other charges brought against her. The case continues.
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