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Primary school fraud trial told of grudges and gambling debts

By John Scott | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

A kitchen fitter involved in a school fraud was in financial trouble when he made a statement implicating the headteacher in the plot and accusing her family of trying to put all the blame on him, a jury heard.

Annie Lennard Primary School in Smethwick allegedly lost thousands of pounds due to the fraud

Robert McKeown, who has admitted conspiring to defraud Sandwell Council and Annie Lennard Primary School in Smethwick, had reason to hold a grudge against headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth and her family, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

Hollingsworth’s builder husband Joe had stopped giving 35-year-old McKeown work as a sub-contractor and had also allegedly been involved in the leak of details which revealed the extent of the carpenter’s debts, revealed Mr Simon Driver, defending the husband.

Michelle Hollingsworth, wife of Joe, was the headteacher at Annie Lennard Primary School

McKeown, who is dyslexic, agreed that the builder’s secretary had come to the rescue after he asked for help with invoices for the business he ran in the later summer of 2016.

Mr Driver suggested that McKeown believed the secretary shared what should have been private information with Joe, who in turn shared it with his sister, who is the mother of McKeown's then-partner Elaine Dewsbury.

Joe Hollingsworth, pictured, is married to Michelle and employed Robert McKeown as a sub-contractor

This information led to to difficulties between McKeown and Elaine and their eight-year relationship came to an end soon after the leak happened late in 2016.

'Off the rails'

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McKeown, who admitted losing more than £30,000 through gambling and going “slightly off the rails” following the break-up, said: “I disagree that it ended purely because of the gambling and financial loss. There were other issues.”

He remortgaged his home, increasing the debt from £70,000 to £120,000 and floated the possibility of Joe Hollingsworth buying the property but this came to nothing.

McKeown told the jury: “I am not saying Joe knew about the fraud at the time I was involved in it.”

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But he maintained that Mr Hollingsworth and his brother-in-law Michael Dewsbury had tried to get him to take all the blame for the fraud and not mention the alleged involvement of the head teacher.

Michael Dewsbury, the brother-in-law of Joe Hollingsworth and father of Robert McKeown's former partner Elaine

Mr Driver retorted that Mr Hollingsworth never tried to influence his responses to the fraud investigation and did not attend any meeting with anybody to plan suggestions on what McKeown should do in the investigation.

Mr Jonathan Barker, representing Michael Dewsbury and his daughter Elaine, insisted that neither had tried to persuade him to give a false account to Sandwell Council investigators of what happened.

Hollingsworth and her husband from Hatherton Park, Cannock, together with their next door neighbours Dewsbury and his daughter, plead not guilty to all charges they face.

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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