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Estimates for Smethwick primary school works were inflated, fraud trial told

The cost of building work at a school at the centre of a fraud scam appeared to be hugely inflated – with invoices for some work that was never even carried out, a jury heard.

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

One job, involving the supply and fitting of an aluminium side lobby, plus additional work, priced at £8,675, was invoiced in triplicate – with the school paying three times for the same job, it was said.

An investigation into the work carried out at Annie Lennard Primary in Smethwick over five years threw up many such discrepancies, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

Headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth, from Cannock, and secretary Deborah Jones, of Cradley Heath, allegedly systematically syphoned cash between 2010 – 2015 by using the school’s cheques and bogus purchase orders.

Michelle Hollingsworth used to be the headteacher at Annie Lennard Primary School

An independent chartered surveyor who checked invoices against work actually carried out examined 168 purchase orders in total, he told the jury.

Derek Bate then visited the school over three days, taking notes and measurements.

Amongst the paperwork was an invoice for £14,414 for the fitting of 32 windows but during Mr Bate’s visits, he said staff had not been not able to help him as to whether the work had been done, adding that his understanding was that it had not been.

He found another purchase order for five PVC windows, said to cost £4,423, but neither he nor the staff could identify the work on the invoice.

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Mr Bate, called as an expert witness, said there were five windows at a high level fitted with opaque glazing which may have been the windows referred to but his estimate for the work was £250.

Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting on behalf of Sandwell Council, asked him: “So even if the work had been carried out, it should only have cost around £250?” Mr Bate agreed.

Further disparities in the costings were heard, including an £11,850 invoice to the school for fitting kitchen windows, roof lights and aluminium doors compared to the surveyor’s estimate of £4,350 and the erection of an entrance lobby, allegedly costing £14,990 which Mr Bate priced at £8,895.

In cross-examination by Mr William Dudley, representing Jones, Mr Bate agreed that some of the paperwork was vague in its description of the work.

He conceded that an invoice for £100 for grass cutting which the surveyor had costed at £30 could have been for a term’s worth of work.

Jones, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath, has admitted conspiring with the headteacher to defraud their school but denies involvement in frauds with other people of which she is also accused.

Hollingsworth, from Hatherton Park, Cannock pleads not guilty to all the charges of conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to attempt to pervert the course of justice which she also faces. The trial continues.