Cumbria

Keswick School's finance chief jailed for £188,000 theft

Ghislain Smithson Image copyright Cumbria Police
Image caption Ghislain Smithson's actions had a "devastating" impact on the school, the court heard

A school finance manager who stole up to £188,000 to fund her "luxury lifestyle" has been jailed for 32 months.

Ghislain Smithson raided the accounts of Keswick School, in Cumbria, and used the money to pay for holidays including a 10-day Caribbean break for two.

The 52-year-old created fake companies and bogus invoices to channel the funds between 2012 and 2018.

She was sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court having pleaded guilty to theft.

Smithson, of Sandybeck Way, Cockermouth, also took advantage of a software fault that allowed her to authorise payments from school accounts using her signature alone.

A school credit card was used to buy foreign currency totalling more than £30,000 and to make payments to Jet2 Holidays.

She continued to steal despite attending crucial budget meetings at which colleagues battled to cut costs and avoid job losses.

'Overwhelming' burden

Headteacher Simon Jackson described the discovery of Smithson's theft as "devastating" in a statement detailing the impact of the thefts.

The court heard her actions had "taken money away from some of the most vulnerable and deprived schoolchildren".

Prosecutor Gerard Rogerson said an "overwhelming" emotional burden had been placed on other staff by Smithson stealing the funds to "fund her own luxury lifestyle".

As a result of budget pressures, some staff had been made redundant while a number of vacancies were not filled.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Struggling financially, Keswick School had made some staff redundant

Smithson's activity was finally uncovered after she moved jobs last year and a different finance officer found irregularities.

The court was told she was "very sorry" for her crime and the consequences.

Her barrister, Judith McCullough, said the offending took place after Smithson and her husband had been made bankrupt following a flood which "wiped out" their Cockermouth-based pub and catering business.

Ill health and family bereavements were also blamed.

But Judge Nicholas Barker described her actions as "so wicked".

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