Head and bursar 'stole £500,000 from school'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A state school headteacher and her bursar plundered up to £500,000 from the education budget over several years to buy designer goods and holidays on the Orient Express, a court was told yesterday.

A state school headteacher and her bursar plundered up to £500,000 from the education budget over several years to buy designer goods and holidays on the Orient Express, a court was told yesterday.

Prosecutors said Colleen McCabe, 50, and Maureen Stapley "grossly abused" their positions to shower themselves and others with gifts.

Ms McCabe, principal of St John Rigby Roman Catholic College in Bromley, south-east London, is charged with 17 counts of theft from the school budget totalling £74,200 and two allegations of obtaining a money transfer by deception. Ms Stapley, the school bursar, aged 41, is facing seven theft charges involving more than £15,200 and six offences of money transaction deceptions. Both deny the charges.

For more than four years money that should have been used for the benefit of the school and its 1,100 pupils was squandered on a "massive scale", Anthony Wilcken, for the prosecution, told Southwark Crown Court.

They spent "literally thousands of pounds on foreign travel, including holidays, spending cash for themselves, their friends and relatives.

"There were expensive dinners at quality restaurants and there were trips to the theatre in the West End of London," Mr Wilcken said. "Designer clothes were bought and substantial amounts were spent on very expensive jewellery and the like ... including £2,000 for a diamond and gold bracelet for McCabe's mother."

The barrister said that in addition the women allegedly bought designer sunglasses, Gucci watches, trips on the Orient Express and "even a season ticket for the use of a former governor at Crystal Palace Football Club".

Furniture was also bought, as were electrical goods and clothing during shopping trips in Britain and abroad.

Mr Wilcken said: "However, it is quite impossible to determine with precision how much money was diverted and misspent in these various ways. But a conservative estimate is that it lies somewhere between £250,000 and £500,000."

He said the defendants had "milked, attacked and abused" the school's money.

He told the jury that there was "little or no effective control over expenditure and a conspicuous lack of appropriate financial records".

The alleged dishonesty came to light after the present Government restored "volunt-ary aided status" to St John Rigby – thus returning responsibility for its finances to the local education authority.

Mr Wilcken said Bromley council had asked each school in the summer of 1999 to meet its own audit manager to discuss individual budgets. St John Rigby had not responded to the invitation. The school was then told auditors would be visiting it to inspect its accounts and – six days before their arrival – two "corporate account" Barclaycards said to have featured in the "misspending" were cancelled.

One had been used by Ms McCabe, the other by Ms Stapley. Each had a monthly spending limit of £5,000 and each was regularly settled by funds from the school's bank accounts.

Mr Wilcken said the cards had caused a degree of "excitement" among the auditors looking at the school's financial records.

He said the school had set up a special financial sub- committee – on which the two defendants sat – to control budget spending. And he added that Ms McCabe had control over about £3m a year.

The case, which is expected to last for eight weeks, continues today.