Fraudster headteacher and secretary jailed over £500k school fraud
A corrupt headteacher, who was the "lynch pin" of a massive fraud that cost the school she ran in a deprived area over £500,000, has been jailed for five and a half years.
Michelle Hollingsworth systematically syphoned off cash from Annie Lennard Primary in The Oval, Smethwick, for five years helped by her school secretary Deborah Jones who was sent to prison for four years three months.
The 55-year-old headteacher's builder husband Joseph, aged 58, was imprisoned for a year for his part in the racket and an attempt by him to pervert the course of justice.
The two women fraudsters made 180 visits to boutique stores, some as far away as Cheshire, on shopping sprees funded by cheques from the school and plundered more of its money in kick-back deals during which tradesmen were paid for work that was either overpriced or invented and shared the profit with one or both women.
Mrs Hollingsworth, from Hatherton Park, Cannock, was responsible for the school losing at least £513,000 while Jones, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath, was involved in at least £439,000 of the loss.
Judge Simon Ward, sitting at Wolverhampton Crown Court, told the shamed head teacher: "You had great responsibility at the school, were in a position of great trust in charge of the finances to ensure best value for the school.
"It wasn't your money and it had to be spent wisely not generously on yourself."
The judge continued: "These series of conspiracies would not have existed without you. You abused your position of power, trust and responsibility to become the lynch pin for all this offending.
"You amassed a small network of people who each became involved in your dishonest scheme.
"As a result the school is having to rebuild itself, not with bricks and mortar but with different financial procedures and other changes to raise moral from its parlous state caused by the two people running the school turning out to be criminals."
Jones admitted creating over £70,000 worth of work which had supposedly been done by her labourer husband.
She also pleaded guilty to conspiring with the headteacher to defraud Sandwell Council which fund Annie Lennard Primary.
She was also convicted of two further charges of conspiring to defraud with other workmen.
Hollingsworth was found guilty of conspiring to defraud with five other people and an attempt to pervert the course of justice by trying to get one of those involved - carpenter Robert McKeown - to take all the blame for his involvement in their deal that involved payment for non existent work that ran up a further £40,000 loss for the school.
McKeown, 35, and from Hill Street, Hednesford, pleaded guilty and gave evidence against the headteacher at her trial.
He received a six-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, with 120 hours unpaid work.
Sports teacher Nathan Cooper, 28, from Pebble Mill Drive, Cannock, who was convicted of conspiring with Jones and Mrs Hollingsworth to defraud the school and Sandwell Council out of at least £17,000 was given a 14-month prison term suspended for two years with 120 hours unpaid work.
Kitchen fitter Stephen Roberts, 60, from Great Saredon, Shareshill, who was found guilty of being involved in a fraud conspiracy with the headteacher during which he laundered money for her, got nine months jail suspended for two years with 120 hours unpaid work.
Michael Dewsbury, 54, who lives next door to the Hollingsworth family, convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, was given a three-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered to do 120 hours unpaid work and pay £10,000 costs.
Full coverage of the trial
Take a look back at coverage of the trial from the Express & Star's reporting team.
- School fraud trial told of cash for cheques scam claims
- Niece denies family plot in Smethwick school fraud case
- Headteacher's sister-in-law 'paid £12k for child special needs training services'
- Estimated costs for school works 'inadequate', fraud trial hears
- Secretary in school fraud trial says headteacher was behind scam
- Head in school fraud wrangle never saw its bank statements, court told
- Headteacher accused over school fraud 'lied through her teeth'
- Alleged fraudster headteacher 'bought clothes at boutiques for school non-uniform days'
- Alleged fraudster headteacher 'offered secretary cash to take blame'
- Alleged fraudster headteacher ‘wanted cash back on school toilets’
- 'I can’t use a computer' says headteacher at centre of fraud trial
- Estimates for primary school works were inflated, trial told
- Primary school fraud trial told of grudges and gambling debts
- Carpenter admits role in primary school fraud
- Former Smethwick headteacher accused of fraud was 'manipulative'
- Primary school headteacher's family ‘told boyfriend to take fraud blame’
- Black Country primary school headteacher ‘gave contracts to family’
- School secretary 'husband’s firm paid £74k for phantom work'
- Headteacher and secretary 'siphoned thousands from school accounts'
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.