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Headteacher and secretary jailed over school fraud following Sandwell Council investigation

Published 28th November 2019

Evidence used at the trial

A headteacher and secretary were this week jailed for defrauding their Smethwick school of more than half a million pounds.

The former head of Annie Lennard Primary School Michelle Hollingsworth, aged 55, was jailed for five and a half years and secretary Deborah Jones, aged 57, was jailed for four years and three months at Wolverhampton Crown Court on Tuesday 26 November.

Five others were also sentenced including Joe Hollingsworth, the former headteacher’s husband aged 58 was jailed for a year. Robert McKeown, aged 35 was given a sentence of six months, suspended for two years with a 12 month supervision order and 120 of unpaid work. Nathan Cooper, aged 28, was given a sentence of 14 months suspended for two years and 200 hours of unpaid work. Stephen Roberts, aged 59, was given a nine month sentence, suspended for two years and 120 hours of unpaid work. Michael Dewsbury, aged 54, was given a three month sentence suspended for 18 months and 100 hours of unpaid work.  

Those sentenced played a part in a fraud that took place over six years in which it was estimated more than £500,000 was fraudulently taken from the school.

Sandwell Council investigators uncovered the fraudulent financial activities after a shop reported suspicious purchases using school cheques.

Some of the items that came to light during the investigation include two paintings worth an estimated combined total of £2,000, an antique clock estimated to be worth £900 along with various high quality soft furnishings thought to be purchased during the many trips the pair made to shops.

The discovery then led to officers finding fraudulent purchases at a total of 35 shops. Investigators also found many instances of businesses over-inflating quotes and charging for services that weren't received by the school.

Sandwell Council's legal team set about building a case to submit to court and bring about proceedings to prosecute those involved in the fraud.

Sandwell Council’s Chief Executive David Stevens said: "It's important to remember that at the heart of this trial is a school full of children who have had money syphoned away from their education to line the pockets of these criminals.

“The school staff have done an admirable job in maintaining standards at Annie Lennard despite this ordeal and can now move on knowing those responsible are behind bars or have been punished.

"We will now work to recover the losses from the school fund and cover the cost of investigating and prosecuting those convicted."

Darren Carter, Executive Director of Resources at Sandwell Council, praised the teams involved in the case. He said: "The teams involved have painstakingly picked apart the fraudulent activities of all those convicted.

"Without the hard work of those members of council staff, this large-scale fraud may never have been uncovered."

Sentencing is yet to take place for Andrew Feltham with this hearing expected in the New Year.

Proceeds to recover the money lost and costs for the investigation and court case will take place in the summer of 2020.