BY TRACY-JO SMITH
A FORMER headmistress ol a Catholic school in Kent who was found guilty of stealing £.500,000 for school funds has been jailed for five years.
In sentencing Colleen McCabe, Judge Christopher Elwen called her "an arrogant bully" who wove "a tissue of lies". Ha added: "You are wholly self-satisfied, manipulative, mendacious ... there is no hint of remorse or understanding."
The ex-nun was convicted of theft after an audit at St John Rigby College, a 1,100-pupil, state-funded Catholic school in West Wickham.
Prosecutor Andrew Wilcken said she "milked, attacked and abused" the £3 million budget she largely controlled against a backdrop of almost no appropriate controls.
But council auditors — with the few financial records that had not mysteriously disappeared — quickly found one "blatant display of profligacy" after another.
During a 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 relative and friends. Meanwhile the school went from one financial crisis to another, with a library full of empty shelves and teachers having to clean their own classrooms.
She was convicted of 17 charges of theft and deception but detectives believe she has no money left and Bromley Council is to sue for return of the cash which could see her losing her detached house in Sidcup, Kent.
A few ex-pupils were in court to see her jailed. Helen Jones, 21, said later: "I'm sure the disruption affected A-level results."
Afterwards, the Archdiocese of Southwark said: "It is highly regrettable that Colleen 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 is achieved, particularly over the last three years."
Michael Tickner, Bromley's Executive Councillor for Children and Young People, said: "A new school management team ... has shown real determination to improve the quality of learning and facilities at St John Rigby. I shall be backing the college to fully recover from this whole painful episode ... we must focus on restoring morale and building on the improvements."
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