Lapford pre-school treasurer flew to Australia on stolen cash
A pre-school play group was almost forced to close after its bookkeeper stole £5,000 and spent the money taking her family on holiday in Australia.
The committee members of Lapford Pre-School were forced to dip into their own pockets to repay the £12,000 deficit which Abigail McPherson ran up in just nine months.
They should have been protected by insurance but their policy had lapsed because she had paid a cheque to herself instead of sending off the renewal premium.
The two most senior members of staff left to save money on the wage bill but were then the targets of a whispering campaign because the light fingered treasurer blamed them for her own thefts.
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McPherson, 36, was declared bankrupt while she was the financial administrator at the school but did not tell anyone and carried on pretending she was a wealthy woman who also ran her own cleaning business.
The small community of Lapford has been racked by rumours for the two years it has taken for the case to come to court because McPherson denied what she had done and deflected suspicion on others.
She even gave an interview to a local paper in which she described the case against her as a farce.
The manager and deputy who were driven out by her lies said they were pleased that the truth had finally come out when she received a suspended sentence at Exeter Crown Court.
McPherson, of Greenaway, Morchard Bishop, whose one daughter is a former pupil at the school, admitted three frauds and eight thefts totalling £5,474.05.
She was jailed for eight months, suspended for two years by Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, who told her:”For a period of nine months you carried out rampant dishonesty and committed fraud on many occasions.
“You falsified records to cover your trail of dishonesty and misled your employers. People who run small schools like this have enough trouble balancing the books without you helping yourself to significant amounts of money.
“When you were interviewed you pointed the blame at others. This school was run by volunteers in a rural area and your crimes resulted in the manager and her deputy having to give up their jobs.
“The school nearly closed and the trustees were left facing personal liabilities without insurance, which you failed to renew. Your conduct has caused very great distress to many people and was a serious breach of trust.
“The offence merits custody but it is clear that in the two years since you committed these offences you have paid a heavy price in terms of loss of reputation, standing in the community and anxiety about the possibility of going to prison.”
Mr Tom Bradnock, prosecuting, said McPherson was appointed in late 2009 and used various different means of stealing the money before she was caught in August 2010.
She falsified cheque stubs to make it look like she was paying bills but then wrote them out to cash and pocketed the money.
She picked up the money for wages from the Post Office and stole the money she deducted money for PAYE and National Insurance.
The result was that debts of more than £12,000 were run up which almost cause the closure of the school and left the committee members personally liable.
While working at the school she was made personally bankrupt but did not tell her employers.
Mr Bradnock said one of the cheques was found to be to a travel agency for £1,683.60. He said:”This related to a trip to Australia which McPherson, her husband and daughter made in August 2010.”
McPherson told police at the time she had not taken the money and said she funded her lifestyle out of her cleaning business and her husband’s window cleaning business.
Mr Mark Jackson, defending, passed the Judge a sheaf of references and letters setting out the psychological effects his client has suffered while awaiting the outcome of the case.
He urged the judge to follow the recommendation of a pre sentence report.
The former manager of the pre-school Mrs Leigh Sutton and her deputy Mrs Nina Loosemore sat in the public gallery throughout the case, just behind McPherson’s husband who shouted ‘sweet’ when the judge suspended the sentence.
After the case Mrs Sutton said:”I would have liked her to have gone to prison for what she has put us and our families through and the impact she has had on our lives and the whole community, and all the blame she spread around.
“I ran the school for 12 years but I have been forced to move away from Lapford because she caused so many fingers to be pointed. Now, at last, the truth has come out.
“Lapford is a small place and there was a lot of gossip but we could not defend ourselves for more than two years because the case was coming to court.
“She was writing cheques to herself and she always had the best clothes and jewellery and drove a brand new Mini. She was always impeccably turned out.
“She never told us she had been made bankrupt, she gave us the impression her cleaning business was thriving and her husband is still a successful chimney sweep.”