BY TRACY-JO SMITH
A FORMER headmistress of a Catholic school in Kent found guilty of stealing £500,000 from her school has been remanded in custody after failing to appear before a judge to be sentenced.
Ex-nun Colleen McCabe was warned by a judge at London's Southwark Crown Court in July that she faced a lengthy jail sentence after her "gross betrayal" of trust. She failed to turn up for sentencing last Friday and never intended to, Greenwich Magistrates heard.
Reading from medical reports, District Judge Michael Kelly said McCabe had already told her psychiatrist she would not turn up for sentencing. He added that she overslept when she should have been at Southwark Crown Court to face a "substantial" jail sentence.
McCabe was convicted of theft after an audit at St John Rigby College, a 1,100-pupil, state-ftmded Catholic school in West Wickham.
After she failed to appear in court on Friday she was taken from her home in Sidcup by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich. She was then arrested on Friday evening and spent the night in cells at Plumstead police station in south London.
Judge Michael Kelly refused bail, remanding McCabe in custody until next Tuesday, after hearing submissions from the prosecution and the defendant's solicitor.
He said: "It is clear you have failed to answer bail before the crown court. Having the psychiatric report I am concerned about your welfare and safety. I don't intend to go into details of the report, but you indicated to the doctor that you did not intend to go to the sentence hearing. "Also. I have real concerns about your welfare and mental health, given what I have read in the report, and given the opportunity you may well harm yourself, so in these circumstances it seems to me right you will be remanded in custody to go before the crown court on Tuesday."
Anthony Wilcken, prosecuting, told the court that when arrested at hospital McCabe told officers: "I wasn't trying to evade court. It was all too much. I did not know what to do."
The court had heard that in a display of greed that "would have made Imelda Marcos proud" the principal's fondness for footwear alone cost £7,000.
McCabe, principal of St John Rigby College in West Wickham, Bromley, was found guilty of 11 sample counts of theft and six of deception.
During the nine-week trial the court was told that massive amounts of money were spent on furniture, electrical goods, designer clothes and cosmetics, while gifts were lavished on relatives and friends.
The 50-year-old from Sidcup, Kent, bought Gucci jewellery, meals at fine restaurants, West End theatre "extravaganza" trips, a joumey on the Orient Express and sunshine holidays.
Meanwhile her school went from one financial crisis to another, with a library full of empty shelves and teachers having to clean their own classrooms, the jury was told.
The headmistress was found out when the grant-maintained school returned to the control of the London Borough of Bromley.
In November 1999, council auditors were sent in and reported "grave concerns" about the school's accounts, which led to McCabe's arrest.