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Headteacher's sister-in-law 'paid £12k for child special needs training services'

By Marion Brennan | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

An education specialist charged thousands of pounds for services to a school that she knew could have been provided by the local authority, a jury heard.

Annie Lennard Primary School

But Fiona Dewsbury, 57, who acted as a consultant to Annie Lennard Primary in Smethwick, maintained that she delivered special needs services in far more detail than Sandwell Council could provide.

She added that despite special services being available from the local authority, "worryingly" they were not being provided at Annie Lennard.

The school is at the centre of an alleged fraud scam involving hundreds of thousands of pounds said to have been operated by head teacher Michelle Hollingsworth and secretary Deborah Jones over a five-year period.

It is claimed the pair plundered cash from school funds for extravagant shopping trips by making out fake purchase orders and misusing the school cheque book.

Michelle Hollingsworth was the headteacher at Annie Lennard

Hollingsworth employed Fiona Dewsbury, her sister-in-law and next door neighbour, to provide advice, training and resources on the teaching of dyslexic and autistic children, being paid £12,000 between November 2014 and July 2015.

Quizzed by Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting at Wolverhampton Crown Court, about payments for training days, she conceded she did not deliver the training in person but provided information and resources for them to the head teacher to pass on to staff.

Mr Jackson challenged her about charging the school for what were effectively photocopies from her university masters course.

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She responded that she had paid for her studies and that what she really charging for was her knowledge in selecting and adapting which areas the school should focus on.

She added: "That's how professionals work – you gain knowledge and you charge for it."

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The jury heard that Dewsbury had questioned Hollingsworth about the way purchase orders relating to her payments had been worded because she "didn't understand" it.

The head promised to get back to her but never did.

One purchase order was for £2,210 for 17 dyslexia training sessions, but she had not provided in person, the court heard.

"I don't know why it was written down like that," Dewsbury said.

She had provided training and material in that area and had not written the purchase orders herself, she pointed out. "I thought I was being paid for work I was doing in the school," she added.

The trial has heard that the sisters-in-law are no longer on speaking terms because of Dewsbury's "absolute devastation" at being implicated in the alleged conspiracy, a charge she denies.

Jones, 57, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath, admits conspiring with the headteacher to defraud Sandwell Council and Annie Lennard School but denies all alleged frauds involving other people

Hollingsworth, 55, of Hatherton Park, Cannock, denies the conspiracy and all other charges against her.

Others in the dock are also alleged to be part of the conspiracy.

The case continues.

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

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

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