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Sandwell Council officer 'didn't suspect Smethwick primary school fraud'

By Marion Brennan | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

A council budget officer who oversaw spending at a school allegedly defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds by the headteacher and secretary did not have any concerns over the school’s finances, a court heard.

Annie Lennard Primary

Jane Bourke, senior budget officer for Sandwell Council, visited Annie Lennard Primary around once a month to check their funds were being allocated correctly.

But she said it was not her job to look at individual purchases, only to check that the school did not significantly overspend or underspend, and Annie Lennard’s spending margins were no different to any other school under her responsibility she told Wolverhampton Crown Court.

More from the trial:

Head teacher Michelle Hollingsworth, aged 55, and secretary Deborah Jones, 57, are accused of systematically syphoning cash from the Smethwick primary for around five years by using the school’s cheques and creating fake purchase orders.

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The pair are said to have spent up to £16,000 a time of the school’s money on a series of shopping sprees, visiting boutiques and stores selling expensive designer goods and antiques as far afield as Cheshire and Derbyshire.

All the time they were using the school’s cheques to pay for the goods, none of which were suitable for primary schoolchildren, the jury has heard.

Then in spring 2015, Hollingsworth told staff that the school had no money because it had been short-changed by the local authority, it was claimed.

Quizzed by Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting for Sandwell Council, about the school’s funds, Ms Bourke said that her job was to oversee the total budget rather than analyse individual purchases, and that she did not look at orders unless there was an overspend.

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Deborah Jones, as school secretary, was the only person who could to enter orders on the financial management system and Michelle Hollingsworth was the only person who could authorise them.

Asked if she had an idea that Hollingsworth might be putting orders on, Ms Bourke said: “That would immediately ring alarm bells because there has to be a division of duties.”

Responding to a question from Mr Jackson about whether someone could enter orders on the system by pretending to be Jones or Hollingsworth, she said it was not possible because the two women had unique usernames and passwords.

If she thought the headteacher was entering orders on the system, she said: “I would have immediately referred it to my line manager who would have had it investigated.”

Jones, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath, admits conspiring with the headteacher to defraud Sandwell Council and the school but denies all alleged frauds involving other people.

Hollingsworth, of Hatherton Park, Cannock, denies the conspiracy and all the other charges brought against her.

They are said to have been the main offenders in the conspiracy which supposedly included several other people, five of whom are in the dock with them and deny any involvement.

The case continues.

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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