Ex-headteacher defrauded school of £100,000 and engaged in sexual activity on school premises

Peterborough Telegraph archive picture of Sawtry Community College
Peterborough Telegraph archive picture of Sawtry Community College
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A former headteacher is to be sentenced after defrauding a local school of more than £100,000 and engaging in sexual activity on the school premises during school hours.

James Stewart, former principal of Sawtry Community College, has admitted eight counts of fraud by abuse of position and one count of misconduct in public office relating to his time at the school, which also include drinking on the premises and leaving during the day to attend horse racing.

The former vice principal, Alan Stevens, has also pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of position.

The school is now called Sawtry Academy and has since been taken over by the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust which is launching a campaign to “put right the crimes of the past and invest in the future of the school.”

The trust’s chair Shirley Jamieson said: “Not only has the school lost significant sums of money as a result of these behaviours but the absence of leadership during this period means that we are still trying to catch up on years of under investment in its building condition.

“For far too long, because of the conduct of the school’s former leaders, our students, staff and community have had to put up with shoddy buildings that are not fit for use.”

Stewart pleaded guilty to eight of the charges that were brought against him, including a single charge of misconduct in public office, in March.

The charges relate to a period of time between August 2011 and August 2014 and are linked to:

. Regularly engaging in sexual activity with another adult on school premises during school hours within parts of his office adapted for such purpose

. Regularly drinking alcoholic beverages on school premises during school hours to such an extent as to affect his ability to manage the academy to the highest standards to be expected as a public officer

. Regularly and frequently preventing others access to him while on the school premises by locking himself away in his office for long periods and absenting himself from school premises during school hours for purposes other than to do with the good management of the school i.e. habitually arriving at school late, habitually leaving school early, visiting horse races and going on personal ski trips abroad.

He also pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud which included:

. Fraud for expenses claims to a value of £37,000

. Fraud for expenses to a value of £47,500

. Aiding and abetting Stevens in fraud (relating to Stevens’ expenses)

. Fraud - relating to the charge cards to a value of £10,537

. Fraud - relating to the direct debit payments to a value of £6,400

In August Stevens also pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud by abuse of position relating to expenses claims.

Both men are due to be sentenced for these charges on October 6.

Criminal charges were brought against both men in December 2014 after an investigation by the Education Funding Agency.

Its results were published in September 2014 and highlighted the following:

. £39,026 of potentially irregular expenditure incurred by the former principal

. £2,934.82 - a year’s worth of direct debits for mobile and media charges for the former principal and his family

. £4,615.01 – charge card for meals, food and mobiles

. £6,370 – mileage claims for 12,740 miles – no travel records kept

. £24,544 – expenses reclaimed for alcohol, hospitality, shopping, gift cards, etc.

. The former principal had a holiday every February in term time – this leave was not recorded

. The former principal had authorised bonus payments (£250) for some staff – the trustees were unaware

. The former principal authorised £1,100 “honorarium payment” for the chair of governors over two years – this was not justified

. A laptop was taken from his office when he resigned – he has since reimbursed the school and returned it.

In June 2014 an Ofsted inspection put Sawtry Community College into special measures.

Stewart, who had been principal of the college for almost 30 years and had overseen its move away from being a local authority school into an academy in February 2012, resigned on July 1.

Sawtry Village Academy is now inviting parents and members of the village community to a public meeting at 5.30pm at the school on September 20 when it will be outlining its plans for a public campaign to support a major investment programme in school buildings that are fit for the 21st century.

In a letter to parents it states that: “The legacy of the former principal’s regime still casts a shadow over the school.”

It added that the fire authority had threatened to close the school in the summer of 2016 after being invited to assess the buildings.