BY TRACY JO SMITH
TM_ ARCHDIOCESE of Southwark has publicly noted the outcome of the trial of a former headteacher of St John Rigby College, in West Wickham, Kent, who was found guilty of stealing £500.000 from schoolfunds to pay for a luxurious lifestyle of foreign holidays, designer jewellery and meals in five-star restaurants.
Colleen McCabe, 50, a former nun with the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, was found guilty of theft and deception in a series of unanimous verdicts by a jury at Southwark Crown Court. On one day alone, she left the school £10,000 poorer. Despite an exhaustive police investigation, the precise extent of McCabe's dishonesty will probably never be known.
In a statement, the diocese
said: "It is highly regrettable that Miss McCabe abused her position at the school, committing acts of dishonesty between 1995 and 1999. The offences took place during a period when the school opted out of diocesan and Local Education Authority control to become grant maintained. This was against the then diocesan policy.
"St John Rigby College has since returned to voluntary aided status. In respect of the college, much good work has been done in recent years. A new headteacher, John Stanley, was appointed in March 2000.
In February 2001, the college received a good Ofsted report with a comment praising the leadership of the new headteacher. The Archdiocese of Southwark will continue to support the school community to build on what it has achieved particularly over the last three years."
Councillor Russell Mellor, Leader of Bromley Council, said: "It is good to see that justice has been done. McCabe abused her position to embellish her own lifestyle, draining college funds, and depriving pupils, parents and staff of resources, which greatly impacted the standard of education to which they are entitled. This sounds a clear warning that those in positions of trust and responsibility will not be allowed to misuse them for their own gain."
Kevin Davis, Bromley's director of education, said: "Our priority throughout has been to give the staff and pupils support during this difficult time. In the last three years, under the leadership of the new Principal, John Stanley, and a new management team, the college
has shown real determination to move into a new era.
"This was recognised in the 2001 Ofsted report, and the quality of teaching and learning continues to improve. Accommodation at the school has now been expanded and improved and there has been significant investment in equipment and resources. The judgement allows the school to finally close the door on this episode and focus on re-building morale and the reputation of the College for the future." During the nine-week trial, the court was told that McCabe used the school credit card to fund an lavish lifestyle, including holidays to the Mediterranean, trips to the Orient Express, designer clothes and West End theatre visits. The jury learned that McCabe "milked and attacked and abused" the £3 million annual budget she largely controlled. Meanwhile, her school lurched from one financial crisis to another, with a library full of empty shelves and teachers reduced to cleaning their own classrooms.
McCabe often blamed her co-defendant, Maureen Stapley, the school bursar, for the fraud and claimed that much of the money went on items for the school. Mrs Stapley was cleared of six deception allegations. McCabe will be sentenced on August 22 and was given bail until probation and psychiatric reports have been completed.