Primary school bursar 'stole £50k to fund lavish lifestyle

EXCLUSIVE: Primary school bursar ‘stole £500,000 to fund lavish lifestyle including luxury holidays, three new cars and shopping sprees in seven-year scam’

  •  A primary school bursar allegedly stole more than £500,000, a court heard
  • Debbie Poole is said to have splashed out on holidays, cars and shopping sprees 
  •  She is alleged to have boosted her salary to more than £80,000-a-year by submitting false documents

A primary school bursar stole more than £500,000 to splash out on holidays, cars and shopping sprees in a seven year scam, a court heard.

Debbie Poole, 63, is accused of pocketing the fortune after being put in charge of finances at Hinchley Wood Primary School in Surrey.

The cash is alleged to have funded a lavish lifestyle with Poole enjoying one five-star getaway in a deluxe bungalow suite with its own private pool at a Greek holiday resort.

She is alleged to have boosted her salary to more than £80,000-a-year by submitting false documents to dishonestly gain two pay rises and increase the number of hours she was rewarded for.

Kingston Crown Court heard Poole – who worked at the school for 18 years – forged the signature of headteacher Fiona Collins on documents and cheques during the alleged scam.

The court heard Debra Poole forged the signature of headteacher Fiona Collins on documents and cheques 

Poole is accused of abusing her position as signatory of the account by transferring and using funds which came from parents for her own benefit

Poole worked at the school for 18 years during which time the alleged scam took place

Poole told the court that she denies four counts of fraud

She is alleged to have plundered £490,000 from a special account set up to run after school and breakfast clubs between October 2011 and October 2018.

Poole – who ran the after school club which was known as Woody’s – is accused of abusing her position as signatory of the account by transferring and using funds which came from parents for her own benefit.

The jury heard that the school money was siphoned off into Poole’s joint account with husband Gary, 67 who is accused of a money laundering offence.

The couple are alleged to have splurged thousands on holidays including the £13,000 10-night stay at the exclusive Ikos Olivia resort in Thessaloniki in August 2018.

Earlier that year they splashed out nearly £7,000 on a week’s stay at a luxury cottage for 15 people in Shipston-on-Stour on the edge of the Cotswolds.

The couple also enjoyed Christmas and New Year in Australia along with breaks in Venice and Amsterdam.

They allegedly visited ‘expensive shops’ and put down large deposits on three new cars including a £29,000 Peugeot SUV.

The couple are also alleged to have transferred nearly £70,000 to their two daughters.

One was able to put down a deposit to buy a house after £37,000 was paid into her partner’s account.

Poole allegedly helped her daughter’s put down a house deposit with the money

Debra and Gary Poole both deny the charges against them

Poole’s alleged scam took place directly under the nose of school authorities 

It is alleged the fraud was discovered after a whistleblower came forward following growing concerns over safeguarding issues at the school and allegations of ‘bullying and intimidation’.

Headteacher Mrs Collins was suspended after an investigation was launched and a new head was brought in when she later resigned.

Surrey County Council auditors were called in after concerns were raised over the school’s finances.

The court heard Poole joined Hinchley Wood – which has more than 600 pupils aged four to 11 – as school secretary in February 2000 before becoming senior administration officer four years later.

She took greater control of finances after being appointed school business manager in 2011 and was part of the senior leadership team.

Poole also took charge of Woody’s which pupils would attend for out of school activities and care and proved popular with busy parents.

The court heard parents would pay £18-a-day for their children to attend clubs before and after school which could have up to 70 pupils in a session.

Poole would be handed cash paid by parents and was the financial supervisor of the clubs as well as being in control of the school’s finances and banking.

Investigators discovered that Poole transferred large sums of money from the Woody’s account into her own bank.

She also allegedly wrote school cheques out to herself.

Poole boosted her salary by twice raising her own pay grade as well as increasing her contracted working weeks from 40 to 52 per year, it is claimed.

She also allegedly made a false representation to Surrey County Council’s payroll team that she was working 30 hours a week administering the school clubs.

The court heard that Poole was arrested by police at her home in nearby Surbiton in October 2018.

Prosecutor Keith Hadrill said officers seized piles of documents including paperwork for ‘holidays and expensive shops’.

They recovered school cheque books and bank statements, 48 of which were in unopened envelopes, along with similar documents relating to the after school club and their own bank statements.

Giving evidence Mrs Collins told how Poole was in full control of the school’s finances and was a trusted and valued member of staff.

She said: ‘At no point did I ever have any reason to distrust or be wary or concerned about Mrs Poole’s working practices. I felt very confident that she was a massive support in my role.

‘I never had any doubt about the positive support of Mrs Poole and the governors never had any doubts about the work practices of Mrs Poole in any way, shape or form.’

But the court heard Mrs Collins was asked to identify her handwriting on 42 pages of cheques which allegedly had her signature.

She could only identify genuine signatures on eight cheques. A handwriting expert confirmed signatures on the cheques made out to Poole or to cash ‘had been falsified’, it’s alleged.

When interviewed by police, Poole declined to comment but provided a prepared statement.

She denies four counts of fraud while husband Gary denies acquiring criminal property.

The case continues

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