Former head guilty of £100,000 fraud and having sex in school

A former academy headteacher who defrauded his school of £100,000, had sex in his office and drank alcohol in school, has pleaded guilty to fraud and misconduct in public office.

Sawtry Village Academy in Cambridgeshire has spoken out for the first time about the crimes of its former principal James Stewart, and its ex-vice-principal Alan Stevens.

Between August 2011 and August 2014, Stewart made off with more than £100,000, including roughly £84,000 in fraudulent expenses claims.

He also regularly had sex with another adult during school hours in a part of his office that had been adapted for such a purpose, and frequently drank alcohol in school, enough to affect his ability to manage the academy.

With the guilty pleas now public, we can talk about the crimes and neglect of the past and seek to move on

He also helped his former deputy Alan Stevens to claim fraudulent expenses.

These irregularities first came to light when a whistle-blower approached Ofsted inspectors during a visit in June 2014.

The school was subsequently placed in special measures, and Stewart, who had been in charge of the academy and its predecessor Sawtry Community College for almost 30 years, resigned on July 1 that year.

An Education Funding Agency investigation into the school’s finances later identified almost £40,000 of potentially irregular expenditure he had incurred.

This included almost £3,000 in mobile phone and media charges for him and his family, as well as £25,000 in expenses for alcohol, hospitality, shopping and gift cards.

He had claimed more than £6,000 in mileage expenses, despite having no evidence the travel was all business-related.

Criminal charges were brought against the two men after an investigation in December 2014.

Stewart pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud by abuse of position and one count of misconduct in a public office, at Cambridge Crown Court in March this year, but details have only just come to light following Stevens’s subsequent guilty plea.

Stevens admitted two counts of fraud by abuse of position at Peterborough Crown Court last month, and both men will be sentenced on October 6.

The school’s leadership has also spoken out for the first time, and hopes to get public support for more capital funding to improve the school’s buildings.

They will hold a community meeting later this month.

The school, which became an academy in 2012, is now part of Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust; its leaders say it is making progress but is still affected by its past.

Sarah Wilson, the school’s principal, said the crimes “cast a shadow over our school”, and that as well as financial problems, it was left with serious personnel issues and a declining student roll.

“With the guilty pleas now public, we can talk about the crimes and neglect of the past and seek to move on,” she said.

Since joining Cambridgeshire Meridian Academies Trust in 2015, the school has made “significant progress” in all areas, she claimed, adding: “We now need to invest in making our buildings fit for purpose.”

Shirley Jamieson, the chair of CMAT, said Stewart and Stevens’ actions had placed the “long-term sustainability” of the school at risk.

“Not only has the school lost significant sums of money as a result of these behaviours but the absence of leadership during this period means that we are still trying to catch up on years of under investment in its building condition,” she said.

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