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Carpenter admits role in primary school fraud

A Dyslexic carpenter has alleged he was chosen as the fall guy for a money-spinning school fraud by members of head teacher Michelle Hollingsworth’s family.

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Annie Lennard Primary School

Robert McKeown claimed her builder husband Joe, his brother-in-law Michael Dewsbury and other people joined forces in a bid to place all the blame on him.

A flowchart explaining what the 35-year-old had to do was given to him and had written on it: “If anyone catches on to this, things will blow up massively and the investigation will go on for years,” Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

Michelle Hollingsworth

McKeown, informed the jury he was dyslexic and admitted that, between April 2014 and September 2015, he conspired to defrauding Sandwell Council, the local authority which funds Annie Lennard Primary School in The Oval, Smethwick where Michelle Hollingsworth worked.

McKeown, who, until December 2016, had an eight-year relationship with Elaine Dewsbury, a niece of Hollingsworth, claimed the headteacher gave him school cheques for work he had not done.

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When these were cleared by his bank he alleged that Hollingsworth was given as much of the money as she wanted in cash while he kept the rest as his “cut.”

He continued: “I don’t know the total amount involved or how much I withdrew but I know I gave some of it to Michelle.”

McKeown claimed her share was £20,000 cash while he admitted ending up banking around £16,500 from the fiddle.

Michael Dewsbury

Mr Martin Liddiard, defending 55-year-old Hollingsworth, insisted during cross-examination: “There is no example of you taking cash out of your bank account following the clearing of an Annie Lennard cheque.

"There was no such arrangement with her. It didn’t happen.”

After the headteacher was suspended and Sandwell Council launched an investigation into the school’s finances McKeown alleged Hollingsworth’s builder husband Joe told him not to name his wife when interviewed during the probe.

He was also offered £20,000 cash with all the fees paid for a top barrister to defend him if he took all the blame, it was alleged.

McKeown admitted demanding £51,470 to not mention the head teacher in connection with the fraud and to say he banked the cheques after receiving them in the post. He explained: “If I was to take the blame this is what I wanted.” He got nothing.

Joseph Hollingsworth

Mr Liddiard maintained: “You were desperate for money at this time in your life.” McKeown, who also admitted taking cocaine, retorted: “I was desperate with my mental health.”

Hollingsworth, of Hatherton Park, Cannock denies all charges against her and both her husband and his brother-in-law Dewsbury, also of Hatherton Oark, Cannock, plead not guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice. The case continues.

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