Five years for head who swindled school of £500,000

A headmistress was sentenced to five years' jail yesterday for swindling £500,000 from the school budget.

Colleen McCabe, the former head of the 1,100-pupil St John Rigby College in Bromley, south-east London, squandered the cash on expensive jewellery, shoes, holidays, restaurants and the theatre.

She was convicted on 15 July of 11 sample counts of theft and six of deception, and jailed yesterday by a judge at Southwark Crown Court.

McCabe's lavish lifestyle went undetected for five years until 1999 when Bromley council regained responsibility for auditing the college's accounts.

Judge Christopher Elwen told McCabe, 51, a former nun: "Depriving as you did the children under your care of funds intended to be spent for their education and welfare was a gross breach of trust.

"It was put to you in court that you were a thoroughly dishonest woman. You were described ... as arrogant, dogmatic and a bully. Your performance marked you out as self-satisfied, manipulative and mendacious."

About 25 former pupils and teachers filled the public gallery as he continued: "You treated the college's funds as your own property to be used for the benefit of yourself, your family and your ecclesiastical friends without regards to the interests or welfare of the college and your pupils."

The judge told McCabe it was not for him to comment on how her dishonesty "escaped the attention of the governors and auditors for so long - others may have their own views".

Her "fraudulent behaviour" had stopped only when discovery became imminent but she then sought to blame her former friend and one-time college bursar, Maureen Stapley, who was acquitted by the jury.

Rejecting defence pleas for a suspended sentence, the judge said she had indulged in a "wilful continuation of a gross breach of trust for a long period of time" and shown "no hint of remorse". McCabe failed to appear for sentencing on 22 August, and Judge Geoffrey Rivlin warned then that she faced a lengthy jail sentence. McCabe was rearrested the following day, after discharging herself from the Queen Mary hospital in Sidcup, where she was treated for chest pains.

The court had earlier heard McCabe started at the college after leaving the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, where she was a nun, in 1994. She then went on a course of "milking and attacking and abusing" the £3m annual school budget, which was largely under her control, leaving the school in a financial crisis.

McCabe had wallowed in a life of luxury that "would have made Imelda Marcos proud", the jury was told. She spent money on Gucci jewellery, fine restaurants, theatre "extravaganzas" and shoes costing £7,000.Andrew Wilcken, for the prosecution, said she had "hammered" her Barclaycard in the weeks up to Christmas 1997.

Stanley Callow, the manager of the jewellery store, Simon Marks, in Eltham, south-east London, said: "I rarely deal with customers but we all knew we had a good day when Miss McCabe had been in."

Detective Sergeant Richard Ward, of the Metropolitan Police Fraud Squad, said: "Looking at her spending, it is selfishness and greed beyond all belief. Even now she shows no remorse, she can't understand why she's been convicted. She was very greedy and dishonest."

Nick Ward, aged 17, a former pupil, said: "She stole our education. But anything more than five years' [jail] would have been excessive."

St John Rigby College is now a voluntary aided school - maintained in partnership with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark. A new school management team has been set up.

Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam