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Alleged fraudster headteacher 'bought clothes at boutiques for school non-uniform days'

By Marion Brennan | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

A headteacher at the heart of a fraud investigation told a jury that children’s clothes she had bought at exclusive boutiques were for her pupils to wear on non-uniform days.

Headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth and secretary Deborah Jones

Michelle Hollingsworth, head of Annie Lennard Primary in Smethwick, went on shopping sprees to Cheshire for the items with co-accused Deborah Jones, the school secretary, during school time, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

The women are accused of plundering school funds over five years in a fraud alleged to have involved hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Giving evidence at her trial, Hollingsworth said she had bought the clothes for dressing-up days, mufti days Christmas jumper days and World Book Day when pupils were encouraged to dress as book characters “because some families couldn’t afford to buy them.”

She claimed some of her students might not have a coat on a cold day or any sportswear, “so we’d got a stock of clothing in school for them to wear”.

Sometimes busy, working parents simply forgot to provide their child with dressing-up clothes, leaving pupils “absolutely heartbroken”, said Hollingsworth.

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Among the shops she visited with Jones was Bizzybods in Nantwich where they spent thousands of pounds on clothes, also toys and games.

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Asked by her defence barrister Mr David Liddiard whether any of the goods were for herself, she replied: “No, all of the toys would have been bought for school.”

She accepted that she also shopped in Chic Interiors in Knutsford where she bought a desk, chair, storage unit, light fittings and other goods.

Some of the items had been for herself, which she had paid for by giving Jones a cheque.

During two audits at Annie Lennard Primary, described in court as in one of the country’s more deprived areas, Hollingsworth said she had been questioned about amounts of money she had spent on behalf of the school, for which she had been reimbursed.

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The financial officer asked about £3,000 of spending in the 2012 audit and £30,000 worth in the 2015 investigation.

In both cases she had been able to show how the money had been legitimately spent.

She told the jury she had been on holiday in Cornwall on one occasion when it appeared that Jones had inputted and authorised spending school funds.

Annie Lennard Primary School in Smethwick

She claimed she was not aware that there were separate inputters and authorisers for the school’s digital financial management system or that she had a dedicated password and username. She said she had nothing to do with the school’s finances.

Earlier in the trial Hollingsworth told investigators she was “not good at financing” and can’t use a computer.

Hollingsworth alleged that Jones, was in charge of its spending.

The head said she concentrated on the pupils and their parents and “trusted other people to do their job”, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

The comments came during a voluntary interview with counter-fraud investigators from Sandwell Council on March 22, 2016, said Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting.

Hollingsworth said during the interview: “Mrs Jones was the finance manager. I was pretty much led by her. She would input information onto the computer. I have never done it because I can’t use one.

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.

They are said to have been the main offenders in the conspiracy which supposedly included several other people, five of whom are in the dock with them and deny any involvement.

The trial continues.

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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