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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Head 'spent 7,000 on shoes'
Colleen McCabe
Colleen McCabe lavished gifts on friends
A headmistress has been found guilty of stealing 500,000 from her school which she used to fund a life of designer jewellery and trips on the Orient Express.

Former nun Colleen McCabe, 50, was warned by the judge she faced a lengthy jail sentence after her "gross betrayal" of trust.

London's Southwark Crown Court heard that in a display of greed that "would have made Imelda Marcos proud", the principal's love affair with footwear alone cost 7,000.

McCabe, principal of Roman Catholic St John Rigby College in West Wickham, Bromley, gasped when the jury found her guilty of the 11 sample counts of theft and six of deception she had faced.

The court heard during the nine-week trial that massive amounts of money were spent on furniture, electrical goods, designer clothes and cosmetics, while gifts were lavished on relatives and friends.

7,000 on shoes
270 for a season ticket to Crystal Palace FC as a gift
836.25 on a visit to the Hilton
112.91 for a pair of sunglasses
377.30 in Tesco
500 dental treatment
423 on cosmetics and a variety of "dog treats"
1,500 for just two visits to a "favourite watering hole" - the Monte Carlo restaurant, in Sevenoaks, Kent.
1,500 for top bracket tickets and champagne receptions for Saturday Night Fever and Phantom of the Opera.
McCabe, of Sidcup, Kent, also bought Gucci jewellery, meals at fine restaurants, West End theatre "extravaganza" trips, a journey on the Orient Express and sunshine holidays.

Meanwhile her school went from one financial crisis to another, with a library full of empty shelves and teachers having to clean their own classrooms, the jury was told.

Prosecutor Andrew Wilcken said McCabe had been "milking and attacking and abusing" the 3m annual budget she largely controlled.

The court heard that her near authoritarian grip on the 1,100 pupil school meant "few dared sneeze without her permission".

Mr Wilcken told the court that on top of her use of the school's credit card, she made "substantial withdrawals" from school accounts to clear personal credit card excesses.

There had been almost no "appropriate" financial controls and "noticeable" shortcomings from the auditors appointed by the college.

Council control

The headmistress was caught when the grant maintained school returned to the control of the London Borough of Bromley.

In November 1999 council auditors were sent in and reported "grave concerns" about the school's accounts, which led to McCabe's arrest.

She will be sentenced on 22 August and was given bail until probation and psychiatric reports have been completed.

Her former friend, one time school bursar Maureen Stapley, 41, of Addiscombe, Surrey, was cleared of six deception allegations.

The BBC's Tom Edwards
"She spent a fortune until she was caught"

Head's 'Christmas spree'
09 May 03  |  Education
Head denies stealing school funds
08 May 03  |  Education

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