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Fraudster headteacher and secretary jailed over £500k school fraud

By John Scott | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

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.

Former school headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth and secretary Deborah Jones have been jailed for their roles in the fraud

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.

Joseph Hollingsworth and Robert McKeown outside court

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."

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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."

Ex-headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth pictured at Annie Lennard School in November 2007

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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.

Clockwise from left, Michael Dewsbury, Stephen Roberts and Nathan Cooper were found guilty

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.

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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