NEWSFLASH: Woman admits stealing £6,380 from Melton’s Swallowdale School

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A 49-year-old woman stole more than £6,000 from the Melton primary school where she worked as an administrator, a court has heard.

Diane Marie Brightwell, of Dalgliesh Way, Asfordby, admitted using Swallowdale Primary School’s bank cards to make 31 cash withdrawals over a period of just over three years.

Leicester Crown Court heard yesterday (Thursday) that she needed the money because her family was £30,000 in debt after her husband lost his job.

Brightwell was given an eight-month jail sentence suspended for two years, she was made the subject of a two-year supervision order and told to pay £150 court costs.

The court was told that the defendant was in charge of a private fund at the school. This was money provided by fetes, tombolas and other fundraisers and it was used to pay for items such as school trips and gifts provided by the head teacher.

Following an audit which revealed multiple unexplained cash withdrawals, between June 2010 and July 2013, the head teacher became suspicious and called in police.

Prosecutor Ben Gow told the court: “The largest withdrawal was for £300, the smallest was £50 and the vast majority were around £250. A total of £6,380.

“An investigation led to Mrs Brightwell’s arrest. She said she was in debt and she and her husband were the subject of an IVA bankruptcy arrangement.

Police interviewed 21 people at the school in connection with the case, added Mr Gow, and none said they had asked the defendant to make any of the unexplained withdrawals.

John Hallissey, defending, said the Brightwell family began to struggle financially after Mr Brightwell was laid off from his job as a railway engineer in 2009. He became depressed, said Mr Hallissey, and was a proud man who did not seek medical help or assistance from the benefits office.

Mrs Brightwell kept unpaid bills to herself and had to use a credit card for the weekly shop, the court heard.

“This background of financial difficulty and carrying the burden of everything herself caused her to draw money out from the school fund,” said Mr Hallissey.

Mr Hallissey, who said the family’s finances had since improved due to an IVA debt arrangement, told the hearing: “Mrs Brightwell is terrified. She is a 49-year-old woman appearing in a crown court for the first time and facing a judge with the prospect of a custodial sentence.”

Brightwell’s husband, children and other family members were in court to hear Judge Robert Brown’s verdict.

The judge said she had been saved from a prison sentence because she had pleaded guilty at an early stage and not sought to blame anyone else.

He told the defendant: “This was a breach of trust. You stole money the school could ill afford to lose in these austere times.

“I hear you are very remorseful about what you have done and I have read a sheaf of references, many from people in the teaching profession who have praised the work you have done.

“It’s plain there are a great many people who want the court to know there is another side to you.”

In a statement the governors and headteacher of Swallowdale Primary said: “We have robust systems in place to manage our budget. 

“We want to reassure parents that we have dealt with this matter swiftly and appropriately and, importantly, we’ve ensured that this incident has not impacted negatively on the children’s well-being and education in any way.”