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GUILTY: Nursery boss facing jail over £25,000 funding fraud

A nursery school boss is facing a lengthy prison sentence today after pocketing more than £25,000 in a funding fiddle.

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Kaljit Randhawa outside Wolverhampton Crown Court

Mother-of-two Kaljit Randhawa has been convicted of 15 offences of fraud by false representation after cashing in on the Government's Early Years and Nursery Education Funding schemes which provided free nursery time for two to four-year-olds from financially stretched families and paid the nurseries with credits from their local authority.

The offences were committed on various dates between January 2017 and December 2018 and referred to each child with the amount of money involved ranging from £3,830 to £900. The defendant, from Inkberrow Close, Oldbury, was acquitted of another similar charge.

After the guilty verdicts were returned following a four-week trial, Judge Barry Berlin told the 33-year-old at Wolverhampton Crown Court yesterday: "I am giving you bail but you have been found guilty of a serious set of offences.

"The likelihood is that there will be an immediate custodial sentence and you must prepare for that."

Randhawa, who had a 14-year-old previous conviction for selling fireworks to underage customers and a caution for shoplifting, was ordered to hand in her passport and any other travel document at West Bromwich police station to ensure she did not leave the country before appearing at Warwick Crown Court for sentence on February 20.

'Cynical, systematic abuse'

She ran the now closed Little Genius Academy - previously known as Baby Einsteins Nursery - in Great Bridge Street, West Bromwich, and systematically abused the system in a desperate bid to stop the business going bust, the court heard.

The defendant seized the opportunity to increase her income from Sandwell Council with bogus claims for 15 children.

Some of these had never been to the nursery, others had left or did not return after attending on a single "taster day," revealed Mr Simon Phillips, prosecuting.

He said the nursery was struggling for money and concluded: "It was a cynical, systematic abuse of a scheme established for hard up families and involved a loss of around £25,000 to tax payers."

Former employees made official complaints about the way the business was being run, which led to Ofsted inspector Johanna Holt visiting the nursery and meeting the defendant in February 2018.

The inspector told the jury there were concerns over a “variety of things” and Randhawa handed her contracts involving 14 children, which Mrs Holt understood covered all those registered at the nursery.

She checked these and the “signing in” register for the children in which she found names that had not feature in any of the contracts given to her by the defendant, who maintained the inspector was told she had been given all the contracts - a claim that was denied.

Randhawa denied encouraging the parent of a child, who had left the nursery, to lie by sending the person a text.

The text read: “If anyone asks, tell them you have got a place here.”

The child had left in October 2017 but credits for the youngster continued to be claimed by the defendant between January and March 2018.

She also made payment claims between January and May 2018 for another child who had never attended the nursery.

But she insisted in court: “As far as I was aware the child was attending and that is why the claim was made.”

The defendant admitted that documents went missing and some forms were either not signed or dated.

She confessed she “could not give anything to the school” between September 2017 and the end of January 2018, because she was making hospital visits to her grandfather and mother, both of whom had cancer, the court heard.

She also spent almost three weeks out of the country after taking the ashes of the brother of her father-in-law to India.

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