By Tania Jacquier
A BUSINESS MANAGER has been jailed for stealing more than £50,000 from a Leeds Primary School.
Wendy Smith, 54, was sentenced yesterday at Leeds Crown Court after pleading guilty to charges of serious fraud.
Over a period of three years, Smith forged the signature of the school’s head teacher Sally Fox on 117 cheques. In total she stole £53,000 from Pool-In-Wharfedale CE Primary School near Otley.
She had been employed at the school since 2007, becoming a “close personal friend” of Mrs Fox, but began stealing from it in 2014.
When the school board confronted her about the missing money in 2017, she tried to conceal evidence by hiding bank statements, but then admitted everything in a police interview.
Sentencing Smith, Judge Bayliss noted the school had ended the last year with around a £100,000 deficit, so the £53,000 Mrs Smith stole had a “serious detrimental effect financially” on the school.
This level of theft would normally carries a minimum three year sentence. However the judge noted there were mitigating circumstances.
Mrs Smith’s family has been “beset by a number of problems, particularly with regards to health.”
She began experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia in 2007, and head teacher Sally Fox, recalled that Mrs Smith “often seemed too sad to work” and confided in her about her family’s health problems.
Despite her own health, Mrs Smith is the primary carer for all three other members of her family. Her son William, 21, was left with life-threatening injuries after an attack in 2016, and her daughter, 22, has had chronic fatigue and been unable to work since 2010.
Her husband had an unexpected heart attack in 2011 while walking to work, leading to a series of other health issues including anxiety and depression, as well as further heart attacks and heart surgery.
He then developed a serious gambling addiction. The family are still in £9,000 of credit card debt.
The court heard Smith’s actions were an instance of “need, not greed”, pointing out that the family were in significant debt and had not been on holiday in eight years.
Mrs Smith was “more worried for her family that for herself” and that she had expressed genuine remorse, and a sense of “letting everyone down.”
Smith was given to 16 month prison sentence. She will be eligible for release on license after eight months.