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School secretary 'paid husband's firm £77k for work not done'

By John Scott | Smethwick | Crime | Published:

A secretary has admitted her husband’s business was paid £77,000 for work he had not done at the school where she was employed – and he knew nothing about it.

Deborah Jones

Debbie Jones claimed the five-year scam involving 90 separate payments had been suggested by Michelle Hollingsworth, her head teacher at Annie Lennard Primary in Smethwick.

They were made between March 2010 and May 2015 and she conceded under cross examination: “I accept it was persistent dishonesty but I was not alone.”

Her labourer husband David knew nothing about the racket, she told the Wolverhampton Crown Court jury.

More from the trial:

Cheques were made out to D.Jones – her labourer husband’s first name was David so it covered either of them – and paid into the couple’s joint bank account without his knowledge, she said and alleged: “Michelle came up with the idea.

“It was a very stupid thing to do but she was my boss. When the cheques were cleared I would pay her what she wanted in cash and I kept some of it.” She claimed the head’s share was up to £45,000.

Jones and Hollingsworth went on boutique shopping trips buying handbags, shoes and furniture using school cheques with bogus purchase orders claiming the goods were educational, the court heard.

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She maintained the sprees started after the 2012 school audit and continued: “Michelle said she had seen things in certain shops that would be good for the school and asked if I would like to go with her to see them.”

Mr William Dudley, defending the school secretary, asked her: “Time came when you realised school cheques were being used to pay for items not coming into the school. Where did the idea come from?”

Jones replied: “It was Michelle.” She added: “We never paid individually at the shops. We never used a debit card or cash.”

Mr Dudley inquired: “Did you receive money from Mrs Hollingsworth for items bought for herself?” (as alleged by the head teacher). Jones responded: “She did write me personal cheques (supposedly because she did not get a pay rise) but not for anything bought from a shop.”

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The school secretary continued: “She did the talking. She was very clever. She knew about new incentives coming from the government.”

The 53-year-old from Barrs Road, Cradley Heath, alleged bogus purchase orders made up with different items to those bought were written in hand by Hollingsworth who then allegedly told the secretary to upload them onto the school’s financial system.

Jones, who admits conspiring with the head teacher to defraud the school and Sandwell Council but denies all other charges, concluded: “I have done wrong.

“I hold my hands up to that but I have not done everything and am not going to accept the blame for everything.”

Hollingsworth, 55, from Hatherton Park, Cannock denies conspiring with Jones and others and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The case continues.

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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