A SCHOOL secretary who stole more than £34,000 - then spent the money on gifts and holidays - has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.
Grey-haired bespectacled Jane Marsden, aged 65, raided the accounts of Ashdell Preparatory School in Broomhill, Sheffield, for over five years, taking cash paid by parents for school fees as well as funds raised by young pupils at charity events.
Marsden, who admitted fraud, wept as she was taken down to begin her prison sentence.
Sheffield Crown Court heard Marsden, of Lydgate Lane, Crookes, forged the headmistress’ signature on cheques and covered up some thefts by making false entries in the school register.
She then bought goods from shopping websites, paid for holidays, and bought gifts for her grandchildren, as well as using the stolen money to cover the cost of her two daughters’ weddings.
Her crimes were uncovered only when a new bursar took over at the school on Fulwood Road and noticed discrepancies.
Judge Simon Lawler QC said Marsden stole ‘deliberately and persistently’, and called the fraud a ‘gross breach of trust’.
Rachael Harrison, prosecuting, said Marsden worked as secretary for 14 years at the private school, which relies solely on fees paid by parents.
Her job involved opening post, receiving money for trips and ordering equipment using school credit cards. She was also responsible for banking cash and cheques.
“She received the credit card bills directly to her email account and therefore was the only person to see them,” Ms Harrison told the court.
The new bursar started in February last year, and told the headmistress £4,000 was missing.
“Around £500 was cash which had not been banked,” Ms Harrison said.
“The defendant was challenged about that, and said she simply forgot to pay the cash in, despite the fact she had been to the bank.”
A meeting was arranged during which Marsden admitted taking £7,700 and shredding paying-in books. She was sacked.
Ms Harrison told the court the scale of the secretary’s fraud was then pieced together.
Starting in 2005, Marsden drew out 22 cheques worth £15,625 from a NatWest account, making them out to herself and forging the head’s signature. She had previously been asked to close the account but failed to do so, draining it until there was just £20 left.
She took £4,200 from pupil fees and £4,506 from another bank account, as well as £5,030 from Sheffield Council funds intended for Ashdell’s pre-school. Marsden also bought £4,483 worth of goods from websites including Amazon using school credit cards.
Marsden, who had no previous convictions, told police she was heavily in debt. “She said her husband had retired and they simply didn’t have the money to make repayments on everything,” Ms Harrison said.
Richard Jepson, defending, said Marsden earned £9,000 a year and had no financial duties when she first started her job. “Slowly and very incrementally she started to have more involvement,” he said.
Mr Jepson said she had paid back £12,000, adding: “Things spiralled out of control. She had to maintain the facade of an ongoing, normal lifestyle.”
Judge Lawler told Marsden: “These revelations, in what was a close-knit community, have been very traumatic for the staff and also the children.”
By Richard Blackledge