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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Spending spree head jailed
Colleen McCabe
Colleen McCabe's school suffered badly
A head teacher who stole 500,000 from her school to fund a lavish lifestyle has been jailed for five years.

Colleen McCabe, 51, was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Monday after being convicted of 11 sample counts of theft and six of deception.

Former teachers and pupils of the Catholic St John Rigby College in West Wickham, south-east London filled the courtroom to hear the sentence.

The trial heard the school suffered one financial crisis after another while McCabe stole the money to pay for luxury goods and holidays.

Judge Christopher Elwen said McCabe had told a "tissue of lies" and was "self satisfied, manipulative and mendacious".

He told her: "Depriving as you did the children under your care of funds intended to be spent for their education and welfare was a gross breach of trust."

A typical Barclaycard monthly spend was four pages long
Detective Sergeant Richard Ward

The judge added: "You treated the college's funds as your own property to be used for the benefit of yourself, your family and your ecclesiastical friends without regards to the interests or welfare of the college and your pupils, to fund a lifestyle which the evidence showed your own finances could not have supported."

He rejected defence pleas for him to pass a suspended sentence and said she had shown "no hint of remorse" for what she had done and the damage she had caused.

However he did take into account the fact that she was suffering from a depressive illness and had a number of medical problems.

Her trial had heard McCabe's display of greed "would have made Imelda Marcos proud".

She spent 7,000 on footwear alone as well as massive amounts on furniture, electrical goods, designer clothes, jewellery, nights out, holidays and gifts.

Meanwhile, her school had a library full of empty shelves and teachers who had to clean their own classrooms, the jury was told.

The head teacher was caught when the grant-maintained school returned to the control of the London Borough of Bromley in November 1999 and council auditors were sent in.

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, from Sidcup, south-east London had been due to be sentenced on Friday, 22 August after being warned she faced a lengthy jail sentence.

But she did not turn up at the London court and she was remanded in custody after a warrant was issued for her arrest.

The teacher had previously been taken to hospital by ambulance.

Outside the court, Detective Sergeant Richard Ward said the London Borough of Bromley would now pursue McCabe through the High Court to try to recover some of the money.

He added: "Let this sentence be a stark warning to anyone considering stealing or misusing public funds.

"The crime was audacious in the sense the spending was so massive, a typical Barclaycard monthly spend was four pages long.

"It had a huge impact on the school which is still suffering now as a result of these crimes."

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Dozens of Colleen McCabe's former pupils and staff came to witness her face justice"

Thieving head forged cheques
01 Sep 03  |  London
Spending spree head arrested
22 Aug 03  |  London
Head 'spent 7,000 on shoes'
15 Jul 03  |  London
Head's 'Christmas spree'
09 May 03  |  Education
Head denies stealing school funds
08 May 03  |  Education

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