Experience days and clothes bought in £13,000 fraud by school business manager

front of ipswich magistrates court

Katherine Todd was ordered to pay back the £13,177 in compensation and cover costs following fraud cases. - Credit: Gregg Brown

A school business manager will have to pay back more than £13,000 after admitting to defrauding the school she worked at for two decades.  

Katherine Todd worked at Trimley St Martin Primary School and had made a range of purchases from garden furniture to a coffee machine using a school payment card. 

The 49-year-old, who had been at the school for 20 years, had pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and fraud by false representation at Suffolk Magistrates Court on April 1. 

Appearing for sentencing on Wednesday, May 4, the court heard the fraud totalled £13,177.45. 

Laura Austin, prosecuting on behalf of Suffolk County Council, told the court the defendant would list in the school database the purchases as items bought for the school and said the offences supported "a lavish lifestyle". 

Garden furniture worth £400, Trips to Centre Parc and Legoland, high-end clothing and Virgin experience days were among the items bought by Todd.

The court heard in October 2019, Schools' Choice at Suffolk County Council had contacted the headteacher about "some suspicious transactions" on the school payment card held by the defendant worth more than £2,000, including £1,000 of SuperDry clothing.

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When the headteacher enquired, Todd, of Nayland Road, Felixstowe, said her mobile had defaulted to the payment card and not her debit card and she paid the money back.

Ms Austin said: "At that point the defendant is a long-standing member of staff and had been employed by the school for a number of years. She was held in high regard by other schools in her community. She had provided some training in financial operations to other schools."

The school contacted Schools' Choice after the headteacher and another member of staff were moving boxes and came across information relating to the school payment card - including Lego, which the headteacher remembered Todd had shown her and said she had bought for her stepdaughter.  

A full audit was then carried out on behalf of the council, the court heard. 

The prosecution told the court the defendant was "somewhat forensic in covering her tracks with these offences".

Todd also admitted to fraud by representation after presenting a claim for £391.72

"The fact the victims are school children must be an aggravating factor," said Ms Austin. 

In mitigation, Matthew Swash, representing Todd, set out her health history, including waiting 18 months for a diagnosis of MFD in relation to a head injury she had suffered. 

The prosecution had said the defendant had been "uncooperative" during the investigation but Mr Swash said she had been "unable" to due to her health after suffering a life-changing injury. 

He asked the magistrates to consider a suspended sentence due to the defendant's health conditions and that she was being cared for her by her partner.

He said: "She has pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. She has accepted her wrongdoing. 

"She is going to make sure the money is paid back through her pension." 

Magistrates gave Todd a 12-month suspended prison sentence, suspended for two years. 

The magistrates said: "These are very serious offences. You were of previous good character and you have lost that. You have lost your good name."

The magistrates said it was "fair and reasonable" for Todd to pay £26,680.15 in total, including £13,177.45 for the fraud and £13,502.70 in costs, which will be taken from her pension.

Speaking after the sentencing, Cllr. Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education, SEND and skills, said: “Today sends a strong message to anyone thinking of defrauding the public purse to think again.

“This public money should have been used to enhance the education and enjoyment of children at Trimley St Martin Primary School, instead it was selfishly squandered on a luxurious lifestyle.

“The county’s Counter-Fraud Service will rigorously investigate all allegations of fraud. I am very pleased with today’s result and I thank the Counter Fraud Service and our Legal Team for their hard work and professionalism in pursuing this case.”

Suffolk County Council's counter fraud team also found Todd used the purchasing card on a hot tub, West End show tickets and tent and camping equipment as well as regular food shops.