Bursar 'thought champagne lunch was corporate bonus'

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A bursar at a state school accused with her headteacher of plundering up to £500,000 from the education budget said she thought a champagne outing taken by the principal was a "corporate bonus", a court was told yesterday.

A bursar at a state school accused with her headteacher of plundering up to £500,000 from the education budget said she thought a champagne outing taken by the principal was a "corporate bonus", a court was told yesterday.

Maureen Stapley, bursar at St John Rigby Roman Catholic College College in Bromley, south-east London, was questioned about a trip to Winchester made by the headteacher Colleen McCabe, and her family. The day involved champagne, wine and a three-course lunch. Ms McCabe had claimed she thought the trip had been paid for by a "generous benefactor" to the school.

But Anthony Wilcken, for the prosecution, said Ms Stapley told investigating officers that she thought the trip was a "corporate bonus". He said: "This is a publicly funded school. It is not a company of fat-cat directors. This is lavish expenditure for personal purposes. However can the bursar describe such a trip as a corporate bonus?"

Ms McCabe is charged with 17 counts of theft involving more than £74,200 and two allegations of obtaining a money transfer by deception. Ms Stap-ley is facing seven theft charges relating to more than £15,200 and six offences of money transfer deceptions.

Mr Wilcken told the court that Ms Stapley had booked tickets costing over £800 to see Saturday Night Fever at the London Palladium and tickets costing over £750 to see The Phantom Of The Opera and attend a champagne reception.

"If this purchase was for the benefit of the school and its pupils, it is little wonder that the schooldays are the best days of your life – particularly when an unsuspecting public are footing the bill," he said. "What possible advantage to the college is it that McCabe, her friends and colleagues should be so lavishly entertained?"

The barrister also listed visits made by the women to Debenhams and other shops, paying for goods on school-provided Barclaycards. "In all this spending over the Christmas period, the cards are hammered," he said. The Barclaycard statement showed a Christmas Eve visit to what Mr Wilcken said was Ms Stapley's "favourite jewellery shop", Simon Marks, where she allegedly spent £131.

He said that auditors from Bromley council discovered the spending after the school became the responsibility of the local education authority when the Government abolished grant maintained status. The trial continues.

ALLEGED SHOPPING LIST

¿ Two Orient Express trips;

¿ £2,000 for a diamond and gold bracelet for Ms McCabe's mother;

¿ A season ticket to Crystal Palace Football Club for an ex-governor;

¿ Champagne, wine and a three-course lunch on an outing to Winchester for Ms McCabe and her family;

¿ A £175-a-head first-class outing for the pair and three colleagues;

¿ Tickets costing £800 to see Saturday Night Fever at the London Palladium;

¿ Tickets costing over £750 to see The Phantom of the Opera and a champagne reception;

¿ £131 spent at a jeweller on Christmas Eve;

¿ Designer sunglasses, Gucci watches, clothes, china and jewellery.

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