Ex-nun who stole school money for life of luxury fails to turn up for sentencing

The case of a headmistress who stole £500,000 from her school to fund a lavish lifestyle took a dramatic twist yesterday when she failed to appear in court and ended the day in a hospital bed.

Five hours of confusion began when Colleen McCabe, a 50-year-old former nun, did not turn up for sentencing after discharging herself from hospital where she was being treated for chest pains.

Yesterday morning Southwark Crown Court in London issued a warrant for her arrest while former colleagues and pupils were left waiting outside.

Defence lawyers failed to contact their client and made apologies to judge Geoffrey Rivlin. He had warned that she faced a lengthy jail sentence because of her "gross betrayal of trust" which left the St John Rigby College in West Wickham, south-east London in financial crisis. But as the court noted her absence, paramedics were called to McCabe's home in Sidcup, Kent, and rushed her to a hospital after she complained of chest pains and a possible heart attack.

Mr Justice Rivlin said inquiries about her health "both physical and mental" were continuing and he was also considering the terms of the outstanding bench warrant for her arrest.

"I have not yet been able to deal with these matters because inquiries are ongoing and I hope at some stage I will receive information I need in order to make an appropriate order," he said.

Last month McCabe was convicted of stealing from the state school to fund a series of spending sprees, "that would have made Imelda Marcos proud". She spent £7,000 on shoes, bought Gucci jewellery, enjoyed West End theatre "extravaganzas", sunshine holidays and trips on the Orient Express.

She started work at the school after leaving the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, where she was a nun, in 1994. She then proceeded on a course of "milking and attacking and abusing" the £3m annual school budget, which was largely under her control, according to prosecutors. This left the school in a financial crisis. Teachers were forced to clean classrooms while the school library was left with empty shelves.

McCabe had agreed to meet her lawyers to discuss the case on Thursday evening but instead booked herself into hospital complaining of chest pains. Her barrister Paul Lewis QC contacted her doctor yesterday morning for a prognosis to learn she left the hospital before results of tests were known.

Mr Lewis said he was concerned about the results of a pre-sentence psychiatric report conducted on McCabe.