By Court Reporter 15/08 Updated: 16/08 17:18
A WOMAN who stole thousands of pounds worth of dinner money paid by pupils at St Mary's Junior School in Studley has been jailed.
Julie Clements was sentenced to 20 weeks at Warwick Crown Court after admitting stealing almost £13,000 over a 22 month period.
The thefts began shortly after the 48-year-old, of Prospect Road North, started working as a cook and administrator at the school in early 2010. Part of her job was to collect from each class money paid by pupils for school dinners. She then had to enter the figures into a paying-in book and deposit them into the school's bank account.
County Caterers, responsible for supplying the school meals, would invoice St Mary’s and be paid by the school bursar. But concerns were raised in January because money received from pupils for meals was less than the school was paying out to County Caterers.
When challenged Clements denied stealing it and blamed a ‘system error’ but when asked to produce the financial documents for them to be examined she broke down and said she had done 'something really stupid' admitted the theft and said she would pay it all back.
But none of the £12,927.52 she stole has been paid back, and her only asset is a car estimated to be worth £1,750. The school has been forced to make-up the shortfall with money which would have been used to pay for its general running, school trips or sports equipment.
Peter Freeman, defending, argued Clements was the school cook, who also collected money, rather than someone in a high position of responsibility.
She had been abandoned by her husband, leaving her at the time with an eight-year-old son, who is now a teenager, and £25,000 of credit card debt which she was struggling to make the £100 a month repayments on.
Clements had also got into debt by taking out cash-collect loans at exorbitant rates of interest which she was repaying at £130 a week.
Mr Freeman added her only previous offence was a shoplifting conviction 26-years-ago and she was 'beside herself' at the situation and asked for a suspended sentence.
"We know how it starts. It starts with 'I’ll pay it back next week' – but you can’t and you can’t; so when she goes down to the bank to pay it in, she’s light,” he added.
But Recorder Bond said Clements had been in a position of trust which she had abused.
"No-one wants to see a woman at your stage of life going to prison, and I am aware of your personal circumstances; but this is obviously so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified."
He also ordered Clements to pay £1,750 under the Proceeds of Crime Act within six months or face a further 35 days in prison.
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