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Sandwell Council to attempt to get back £500,000 stolen by Smethwick headteacher

By George Makin | Smethwick | News | Published: | Last Updated:

Legal action to help recover half a million pounds stolen by a corrupt Smethwick headteacher and her school secretary is to begin later this month.

The scam masterminded by former headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth cost Annie Lennard Primary School around £500,000

Sandwell Council's counter-fraud chiefs want Wolverhampton Crown Court to force Michelle Hollingsworth and Deborah Jones to pay back some of the £500,000 they syphoned out of Annie Lennard Primary School over five years.

In November, ex-headteacher Hollingsworth and secretary Jones were jailed for five years six months and four years three months respectively for their leading roles in the fraud.

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

The two fraudsters made 180 visits to boutique stores, some as far away as Cheshire, on shopping sprees funded by cheques from the school.

They also plundered more of its money in kick-back deals where tradesmen were paid for work that was either overpriced or invented before sharing the profit with one or both women.

Hollingsworth also used the cash to buy herself two oil paintings which she said were for the school but she kept at home.

Michelle Hollingsworth and Deborah Jones

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.

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In a report to Sandwell Council's audit and risk assurance committee, counter-fraud officers said they have already seized some goods bought with the stolen cash.

The report states: "Restraints have already been applied to several bank accounts and charges have been laid against two properties to prevent assets being disposed during the recovery process.

"Several assets have also been recovered, with the intention to sell the items via an auctioneer who specialises in selling criminal assets."

Hollingsworth's builder husband, Joseph, was sentenced to 12 months in prison for his part in the scam. In total, 11 people were charged with being involved on varied offences – with only two being acquitted.

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Following the sentencing, Sandwell Council said it was using the Proceeds of Crime Act to claw back as much money as possible.

Officers have said: "A timetable has already been set, proceedings will begin at Wolverhampton Crown Court in January 2020 and a judgement should be concluded by June 2020.”

Councillors will discuss the report at their meeting on Thursday.

Full coverage of the trial

Take a look back at coverage of the trial from the Express & Star's reporting team.

George Makin

By George Makin

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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