Leeds school business manager jailed after forging cheques worth £53,000

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A Leeds primary school business manager forged the headteacher’s name on over 100 cheques in order steal more than £50,000.

Wendy Smith was jailed for 16 months over the three-year deception while she was in charge of the finances at Pool-in-Wharfedale Church of England Primary School.

A court heard Smith, 54, abused the trust placed in her after her husband’s gambling habit began to drain their family income.

Leeds Crown Court heard Smith had been the business manager since 2007 and was responsible for the school’s budget and dealing with banking.

Her offending came to light in October last year when governors became aware of discrepancies in the school’s accounts.

Philip Adams, prosecuting, said Smith was told she was suspended but asked if she could clear her desk.

Smith then returned to her office and tried to remove incriminating bank statements.

An audit was carried out by Leeds City Council which showed Smith had cashed 117 cheques over a three-year period by forging the signature of head teacher Sally Fox.

The total amount illegally obtained by Smith was £53,000.

Smith admitted the offending when interviewed by police.

She told officers she began to commit the offences after her husband became ill and developed an addiction to gambling.

Smith, of Aldersyde Road, Guiseley, pleaded guilty to fraud.

The court heard Smith’s offending had added to the school’s annual deficit of £173,000.

Stephen Smithson, prosecuting, said the mother of two committed the offences when her family were under a great deal of pressure.

He said Smith’s husband had suffered a heart attack in 2011. His ill health had then led to him becoming depressed and developing the gambling habit.

Mr Smithson said Smith and her children also had health problems.

He said £9,000 of the stolen money had been used to pay off a credit card, while £11,000 had been used to pay the mortgage on the family home.

Mr Smithson said: “The offences were for need, not greed.

“There was no lavish lifestyle. The family have not been on holiday for eight years.”

Jailing Smith, judge Tom Bayliss, QC, said: “You took money from the school which, in my judgement, it could ill-afford.

“Your culpability is high indeed. It was an abuse of a position of trust and responsibility and it is fraudulent activity over a long period of time.

“When you were first confronted with this by governors, you asked if you could clear your desk and went to the office and tried to remove bank statements.

“This is a case where, I’m afraid, even with the mitigating features, I find it impossible to deal with other than an immediate prison sentence.”

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