Primary school bursar jailed for six years for stealing over £500k

EXCLUSIVE: Primary school bursar, 63, is jailed for six years after stealing more than £500,000 from breakfast club to fund luxury holidays, new cars and shopping sprees and authorising her own salary rise to £82,000

  • Debbie Poole, 63, sentenced to over six years after stealing £500k from school
  • Surrey parents accused Poole of ‘robbing their children of their education’

A greedy primary school bursar was jailed today after stealing more than £500,000 to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Shameless Debbie Poole, 63, was ordered to serve six years and six months behind bars after she pocketed the fortune while in charge of finances at Hinchley Wood Primary School in Surrey.

As she began her jail term, angry parents accused Poole of ‘robbing their children of their education’.

The mother-of-two is now facing losing her home to help pay back her ill-gotten gains which funded luxury holidays, expensive cars and shopping sprees.

While Poole lived the high life during the nine-year scam, children at the school in the affluent area were left lacking basic equipment.

Primary school bursar Debbie Poole (right with husband gary outside Kingston Crown Court), 63, was jailed today after stealing more than £500,000 to fund an extravagant lifestyle

Poole (pictured here in an old Facebook photo) was ordered to serve six years and six months behind bars after she pocketed the fortune while in charge of finances at Hinchley Wood Primary School in Surrey

Its run down buildings had a leaking roof and torn carpets.

The court heard Poole’s offending led to children – including some of ‘the most vulnerable and deprived’ – missing out ‘on a range of learning opportunities’.

Meanwhile Poole mocked parents who complained by nicknaming them the ‘Pritt Stick brigade’.

READ MORE: School bursar ‘stole £500,000 to fund lavish lifestyle including holidays, three new cars and shopping sprees in seven-year scam’


Jailing Poole at Kingston Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Davies said she had siphoned off the fortune out of ‘sheer greed’ while the school was ‘struggling financially’.

He told her: ‘You have been living beyond your means and you wanted to project a certain image.

‘This was sophisticated offending. You covered your tracks, you forged signatures.

‘Your conduct was undoubtedly in the high culpability range. You abused your position of trust.

‘You were trusted by the school, you were trusted by the parents.

‘It was fraudulent activity conducted over a sustained period of time.’

He added: ‘It was upsetting to the parents who worked hard to maintain the school’s standards.’

Poole, who had no previous convictions, was convicted of four counts of fraud after a four week trial.

A proceeds of crime hearing is set to take place at a later date.

The legal proceedings are launched in a bid to claw back funds when a defendant has benefited financially from criminal activity.

Poole looted £490,000 from a special account set up to run after school and breakfast clubs between October 2011 and October 2018.

The fortune came from the pockets of parents who paid up to £18-a-day for their children to attend.

The trusted manager also authorised her own pay rises to boost her annual salary to over £82,000 – more than most primary school headteachers are paid.

Poole – who worked at the school for 18 years – forged the signature of the school’s headteacher on documents and cheques during the alleged scam.

After the sentencing hearing one mother told MailOnline: ‘She stole our money and betrayed our children whose education suffered as a result.

‘I hope she has learned a painful lesson.’

Parents, who had gathered every day to watch proceedings from the public gallery, told how tens of thousands of pounds raised through cake sales, summer fairs and raffles seemed to ‘simply disappear’.

One mother-of-three who was a long-standing member of the PTA said: ‘I’m gutted that she stole from our children and from us.

‘I would be out in the sun or the rain year after year at every school fair, every event working six or seven hours for free and you wonder what it was all for.

‘We were giving them money for playground equipment, astroturf. We’ll never know how much of that money she pocketed.

‘In a primary school the teachers are meant to provide pens, pencils, glue sticks etc. It got to the stage where children were coming home crying because they hadn’t stuck things in their books because they had no glue.

‘Mrs Poole would say “Oh here comes the Pritt Stick Brigade” when we tried to speak to her about it.

‘The school couldn’t afford to pay for trips even though we were all paying into a school fund.’

Poole, pictured outside Kingston Crown Court, mocked parents who complained by nicknaming them the ‘Pritt Stick brigade’

Meanwhile Poole and husband Gary, 68, were jetting off on a string of exotic holidays – enjoying one five-star getaway in a deluxe bungalow suite with its own private pool at a Greek holiday resort.

They splashed out £13,000 for the 10-night stay at the exclusive Ikos Olivia resort in Thessaloniki in August 2018.

Earlier that year the couple paid £7,000 for 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.

The court heard they visited ‘expensive shops’ and put down large deposits on three new cars including a £29,000 Peugeot SUV.

The couple also 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.

Gary, who was a co-defendant in the case, was cleared of a money laundering offence of acquiring criminal property.

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.

As well as controlling the school’s bank accounts, Poole oversaw the documentation used for changes to staff pay.

The scam began in 2009 when she submitted fake documents to secure the first of two bogus pay rises.

She went on to claim she worked a staggering 66 hour week – instead of the 36 hours she was entitled to.

Poole should have been paid a salary of £45,000 for working 40 weeks but boosted her pay by forging the headteacher’s signature to claim 30 extra hours over 52 weeks.

She claimed the additional hours for running the breakfast and after school clubs called Woody’s.

Poole abused her position as signatory of the club’s bank account to plunder more than £490,000 over seven years by transferring funds and writing out cheques to herself before cashing them.

The clubs – which provided out of school activities and care – proved popular with busy working families and were attended by up to 70 pupils 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.

Suspicions were raised among parents when Poole began arriving for work in a succession of expensive new cars which she parked alongside headteacher Fiona Collins’ ‘old banger’.

The audacious scam was discovered after a whistleblower came forward following growing concerns over safeguarding issues at the school and allegations of ‘bullying and intimidation’.

A new head was brought in and Surrey County Council carried out an audit after concerns were raised over finances.

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

Poole was arrested by police at her home in nearby Surbiton in October 2018.

After the case Detective Constable Lloyd Ives, who led the investigation, said; ‘This gross breach of trust and her elaborate deception spanning some nine years funded an extravagant lifestyle and afforded her luxury holidays and cars which she would not otherwise have been able to afford.

‘I hope that this conviction shows the seriousness with which such a massive abuse of trust and position is taken and I hope that it is a deterrent to anyone else thinking of committing similar offences that it is simply not worth the risk – you will get found out.’

Surrey County Council said: ‘We are glad to see this case come to a conclusion and the perpetrator be brought to justice.

‘This was a calculated and deceitful theft of school money that should have been used to enhance the education and extracurricular experience of children.

‘Thankfully this theft was uncovered without long lasting damage to the school, which is now thriving under new leadership.

‘Hinchley Wood Primary School is now part of a multi academy trust and is in a healthy financial position delivering a high quality education for local children.’

Source: Read Full Article