A school secretary embezzled thousands of pounds after falsifying cheques and invoices as well as using school funds to buy items such as bleach and Fairy Liquid.
Charlotte Pearce, 45, used her position of trust at Ysgol Gymraeg Cwm Derwen in Oakdale, Blackwood, to steal £22,321 between 2012 and 2018, depleting much-needed school funds.
Despite owning three properties with her husband the defendant took the money by falsifying cheques paid to the school – paying the money into her own account and creating false invoices to maintain the deception. She also used the school’s Amazon accounts to buy items such as coat hooks, disabled door locks, an ID badge wallet, bin liners, and toiletries which were delivered to her home address.
Read more: Go here to read all the latest stories from the courts in Wales
A sentencing hearing at Newport Crown Court on Wednesday heard Pearce was discovered after head teacher Kathryn Matthews noticed an overspend on school supplies which was not apparent when the defendant was on sick leave.
Prosecutor Andrew Davies said Pearce was responsible for ordering school supplies and she was the only person who understood the payment system and had access to it. Ms Matthews also had a meeting with the school’s finance and auditing department which highlighted an overspend in cleaning products.
In 2018 Ms Matthews noticed a number of blank expense and overtime forms on the defendant’s shelf and when she looked at them the forms had her signature on them which appeared to be photocopied.
Later that year the head teacher logged into the school’s Amazon account and noticed a number of items had been ordered which were not for school use. This raised further suspicion and further investigation revealed a number of invoices and deliveries had been sent to Pearce’s home address.
She confronted the defendant who initially claimed there had been a mix-up with bank cards but when Pearce was informed a formal investigation would be launched she handed in her notice.
It was later revealed Pearce had used school bank cards to order skips to her mother’s house where renovation work was being carried out.
Mr Davies said: “It’s clear the prosecution say the defendant was falsifying Amazon accounts to purchase items to do up her or her mother’s properties and charging them to the school.”
The defendant was also found to have stolen funds which were taken from the school’s private fund used to provide pupils with trips, excursions and treats, which Pearce hid by falsifying invoices on five occasions.
Pearce, of Llwyd y Berth, Caerphilly, later pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and five counts of making or supplying an article for use of fraud.
In a victim personal statement read out to the court Ms Matthews said: “The school has suffered a direct financial loss from the budget and private fund because of this crime. This has sffected the school’s ability to fund essential items and staffing levels have been reduced to make savings in the budget. Savings have been made to claw back potential losses and the impact on children’s learning experiences.
“The defendant was responsible for the private fund and the theft of the money has taken those experiences away from the children. Every penny has to be carefully planned so the children’s high standard of education can be maintained and so the financial loss will have the least impact on staff and pupils of the school.”
Mr Davies added that Ms Matthews was concerned about repercussions from the community and those who had contributed to the private fund and she had personally found events traumatic.
In mitigation Tim Lewis said his client could not offer an explanation for her offending but she is now “devastated” about the impact on the school, which she described as “family”.
He said mother-of-two Pearce was the sole carer for her elderly mother and described how she had suffered menopausal and hormonal issues at the time of the offences.
Sentencing, Judge Daniel Williams said: “You used that position of trust you stole from a school that can ill afford its precious resources being drained by a member of staff. At the time you were in full-time employment and your husband was being paid well. You owned three properties yet through your actions you have deprived children, some living in poverty, of much-needed resources.”
Pearce was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months. She was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and was made subject to Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings.
To get the latest news from WalesOnline sent straight to your email inbox, including our regular Crime and Punishment updates, click here .