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'Greedy' bursar Susan Ashworth splurged £33k on holidays as she stole from school

She has been jailed for the theft of £100,000 from Baxenden St John's CE Primary

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Susan Ashworth, school bursar

A bursar who stole £100,000 from her primary school’s accounts while splurging thousands on holidays and electronic goods has been jailed.

Susan Ashworth, 58, was the ‘trusted face’ of Baxenden St John’s CE Primary and had worked there for more than 20 years.

Forging the headteacher’s signature on cheques, she diverted school money to her own accounts between January 2011 and August 2016, Preston Crown Court was told.

The scale of the theft deprived hundreds of children of teaching resources and trips out over a period of years, the court heard.

Prosecutor Jane Dagnall said: “Mrs Ashworth systematically misled and manipulated the financial picture for the headteacher.”

The court heard that during the period of the thefts, Ashworth had spent £33,000 on holidays, spent £30,000 on her sons, repaid £17,000 in mortgage payments and spent £10,505 on mobile phones and televisions.

Her crimes were uncovered in 2017 when a Lancashire County Council auditor found discrepancies in school accounts.

Ashworth pleaded guilty last December to one count of theft and another of conversion of criminal property.

Mrs Dagnall read out a victim statement from the school’s headteacher Christina Regan.

She said all the pupils, staff and parents of the school during that period had been victims of the crime.

Mrs Regan said: “To the tight knit community of Baxenden where she worked front of house at St John’s she was the trusted face of the school.

She was responsible for the finances of our school.

“To falsify records and do this is beyond comprehension.”

She added that the lack of money in the school fund meant that over the years parents had been asked to finance school trips.

The theft had also affected the school’s ability to get extra teaching resources and items such as laptops and iPads for the pupils.

Tim Storrie, defending, said it was significant to note that more than £32,000 had been repaid.

He said: “She could not believe it of herself.”

Judge Beverley Lunt jailed Ashworth, of Dorset Drive, Clitheroe, for two years and five months.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing has been scheduled in an attempt to recover the remainder of the stolen money for the education authority.

Judge Beverley Lunt said Susan Ashworth’s crimes were based on ‘errant greed’ and she had shown ‘very little or no remorse’.

During the sentencing hearing Judge Lunt said it was a mistake to believe the theft of the money was a ‘victimless crime’.

She said: “There are very many victims, and they are the children who attended the school. The whole structure of the school was affected. When you retired there were no financial records or proper accounts left behind. You forged the head’s signature and duped others into signing cheques which they believed were for proper purposes.”

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After the hearing, DC Robin Costigan, said: “This case involved a serious breach of trust by Susan Ashworth who, as the Bursar, was in a position of financial control within Baxenden St John’s C of E Primary School.

“This large scale theft which took place over a number of years has adversely affected the pupils and the staff and has also caused reputational damage to the school within the local community. Lancashire Constabulary will continue to bring to justice those who seek to profit from fraud and financial crime.”