Secretary stole £84k from primary school then splashed out on holidays

A secretary stole £84,000 from a primary school over five years and used the cash to splash out on holidays and a new bathroom.

Ashby Hill Top Primary School, in Ashby, Leicestershire was understaffed after Michelle Pidcock took the cash and created a trail of false invoices to cover her tracks, Leicester Crown Court heard.

Pidcock, 47, diverted money to her husband's bank account in increasingly larger amounts, starting in 2014 with £1,162, increasing to £37,000 in 2018, Leicester Live reports.

She reportedly needed money to pay off payday loans with hefty interest, home improvement and holidays.

Pidcock, of Highgate, Ashby, admitted fraud by abuse of her position at the school.

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Joey Kwong, prosecuting, said: "The emotional and psychological impact on staff has been huge and they are trying to understand how someone could do this to a school and justify stealing from school children."

He said Pidcock was the school secretary between January 2008 and June 2018. She was responsible for BACS payments on behalf of the school and dealing with invoices.

She was also clerk at the governors' meetings and would have been aware of the financial situation at the school, which became an academy in 2012.

Three days after the defendant left her employment last summer, Hill Top Adventure Centre contacted the school regarding an unpaid bill.

When the accounts were scrutinised, it became apparent fraudulent payments were being made to an online account in the defendant's husband's name, instead of settling legitimate school bills.

Mr Kwong said: "Many fraudulent transactions took place.

"The total amount taken was £84,282.

"Her house was searched. She'd had a new bathroom installed.

"There was a laptop with a blank template used to create various false invoices."

When questioned by the police she said she had the full use of her husband's bank account and had been suffering from depression for years.

Mr Kwong added: "This was abuse of her position over a long period of time; it was sophisticated offending."   

Tracey Fenn, the school's business manager, in a statement read out by the prosecutor, said the rapidly decreasing school budget affected staffing levels and they were unable to replace support staff when they left.

If Pidcock had not been stealing the money, the school would have employed three learning support assistants to help pupils with numeracy and literacy and additional lunchtime staff.

 The school would have also spent £10,000 would have been spent on resources.

The school was reimbursed by its insurers, but had to pay £1,000 excess with a further £1,500 spent on accountancy fees to unravel the fraud.

Since then, there has been an improvement in the academic performance and behaviour of the children at the school.

Claire Fraser, mitigating, said: "She is of previous good character and made full admissions.

"She had a number of payday loans.

"There was a new bathroom and as far as holidays were concerned they were in the UK, not abroad or lavish.

"Her strongest mitigation is her guilty plea. The money can be repaid."

Judge Martin Hurst said: "You were trusted by staff and pupils at Ashby Hill Top Primary School to be their honest and loyal bookkeeper, but allowed yourself to fall into criminality.

"You weren't earning enough to fund your lifestyle, I'm not saying it was a lavish lifestyle. 

"You started by borrowing on payday loans; the interest you were paying was at an eye-watering level.

"You got deeper into debt and started stealing from the school.

"You took £1,162 in the first year and it increased until the last year you were there to £37,000.

"It came to light a short time after you left your job.

"You created false invoices and diverted all the money through your husband's bank account – the prosecution are not levelling any blame against him.

"The important mitigation is you pleaded guilty and you admitted it and no doubt it was a relief to get it off your chest.

"Your husband has re-mortgaged the house he owned, in which you both live, to raise enough to pay it back.

"The money is in your solicitor's current account."

The judge said the defendant's husband would have to give up work to look after her 15-year-old daughter, if Pidcock went into custody.

LeicestershireLive asked Pidcock, after she was sentenced, if she wished to say anything about her offending or express any remorse. She said: "I am sorry."

Pidcock was given a two year jail sentence, suspended for two years, with 250 hours of unpaid work and a five day rehabilitation activity requirement.

The judge ordered her to pay £84,282 compensation within 28 days.

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