A BURSAR pocketed more than £14,000 of a Stalybridge primary school’s funds so she could secretly fund her new boyfriend’s heroin habit.
Divorcee Nicola Turnbull, 47, exploited her position to order iPads and iPhones plus other electrical items – using tippex to cover up the transactions on paperwork. It is thought she then sold the goods on.
The scam at Wild Bank Community School went on for four years until the acting headteacher became suspicious about discrepancies in the accounts and ordered an audit.
When confronted mother-of-two Turnbull confessed to stealing the money but claimed she had done so because she was being forced to pay for her unnamed partner’s addiction to class A drugs.
She later claimed that when she attempted to end their relationship, he began blackmailing her, threatening to go to police if she didn’t continue her illicit behaviour.
It emerged Turnbull had also cost the school a further £3,000 by using tippex to amend letters to parents asking for money for school trips and outings.
Petty cash had also gone missing and was unaccounted for – making the total loss to the school £19,000.
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, Turnbull, from Denton, pleaded guilty to three offences of fraud by false representation but escaped with a nine-month jail sentence suspended for 12 months was ordered to complete 180 hours unpaid work.
She will face a proceeds-of-crime hearing later when it is expected she will have to pay back the cash she took.
The scam began in May 2012 two years after Turnbull was put in charge of accounts at the 137-pupil school.
Prosecuting, Alastair Reid said: “During November 2016 the acting head teacher was conducting a review of the school’s transactions. She became concerned with the way matters were being dealt with and asked the defendant for a meeting.
“But she felt she was being fobbed off without explanation and so she contacted an external investigator and they found a number of discrepancies including documents with money values tippexed out.
“A number of letters sent out to parents in relation to school trips had been amended. The amounts that were being asked for were lowered presumably to favour parents. A number of amounts were tippexed to cover up discrepancies.
“A number of orders were placed for a number of gifts for the school which had been altered. The school has no knowledge of these gifts ever being received. They amounted to items such as IPad’s, IPhones and other electrical items.
“There were a number of high value electrical items totalling around £14,045. A value of £3,000 was recorded for the loss due to the amendments on trip letters.
“In 2016 an audit was carried out and she was suspended. She was cautioned and interviewed by police where she made full and frank admissions.
“She admitted making amendments in order to pocket money and she explained that she’d kept the gifts and knew she shouldn’t have kept them but felt under pressure by her ex-partner who has a long-standing issue with class A drugs.’’
In mitigation, defence counsel Charlotte Johnson said: “This was not a sophisticated offence.
“She is 47-years-old and split from her husband of 19 years in 2009. She seems to have an issue with the partners she chooses. She entered in to another very difficult relationship.
“She was suffering financially from her marriage breakdown and met a man who didn’t tell her about his drug problem. Over time she became aware of it and he put pressure on her to fund that addiction.
“She wasn’t able to financially support him just from her wages and is an explanation for her actions.
“When she tried to stop and get herself out of the relationship she reported that he became physically abusive but she didn’t report this to police because she had given her partner the opportunity to threaten her.
“The relationship came to an end in 2016 but he got back in touch with the defendant and demanded more money and threatened her so that is why her actions continued in 2017.”
Sentencing Turnbull to a suspended sentence, the judge Mr Recorder Andrew Long said: “You were employed by Wildbank Community School as a bursar and you were in charge of the purse strings there.
“It seems you were involved in an abusive relationship and were put under pressure to provide money for your partner.
“Unfortunately he was able to exploit a dishonest streak in you because you colluded with his requirements for four and a half years before you were caught out.
“Your attempts to cover your tracks were quite noticeable which ranged from stealing petty cash to electrical goods.
Wild Bank issued a statement that said: “Since the financial irregularities were discovered in November 2016, there have been significant changes in the school.
“We have worked closely with the local authority to ensure we have robust and rigorous systems in place.
“The staff and governors feel let down by this abuse of trust.
“We put our pupils at the heart of everything we do. We will continue to move forward with our positive ethos for the benefit of all our children and their families.”