Tredegar school worker used charity cash to pay drug dealer
A teaching assistant stole money raised at her school for charity to pay off her son's drug debt, a hearing has been told.
Caroline Hannigan collected £287 for the British Heart Foundation at Glanhowy Primary School in Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent, in February 2015.
But she used the money to pay drug dealers after her son was threatened.
Mrs Hannigan told a fitness to practise committee hearing in Cardiff she was "deeply remorseful".
Mrs Hannigan, who had worked at the school in various roles for 23 years, was arrested after she admitted to her head teacher that she had never passed on the money to the British Heart Foundation.
The hearing was told she was given a 12-month conditional discharge after admitting theft by an employee at Caerphilly Magistrates' Court in February 2016.
Mrs Hannigan, who had qualified as a teaching assistant in 2009, raised the money at a school cross country event.
The hearing was told Mrs Hannigan asked head teacher Rebecca Fowler if she could raise money for the British Heart Foundation because it was a cause close to her heart as her daughter has a heart defect.
When Mrs Fowler questioned what happened to the money in November 2015, Mrs Hannigan insisted she had given it to the charity.
But when Mrs Fowler asked to see a receipt, Mrs Hannigan confessed and the police were called.
Mrs Hannigan said she acted "on the spur of the moment out of fright".
She said she took the money home after missing the bank on the day of the fundraising event.
Instead, she said she stored the cash in a bag in her wardrobe, intending to pay it into the bank on the Saturday.
But that night, there was banging on both her front and back doors and two men demanded £500 towards a £1,000 drug debt owed by her 31-year-old son, who was living with her.
Mrs Hannigan told the hearing: "They made no qualms about what would happen to me [if they did not get the money].
"They threatened to hurt me and my son.
"They said if I phoned the police or anything, things would happen like your house would burn down, people would disappear."
Mrs Hannigan said her son was at the house at the time but she would not let him speak to the men as she was frightened for him. Instead, she got the money from the fundraising and made it up to £300.
She said the drug dealers accepted that sum on condition she paid off the rest of the debt at the end of the month.
Sarah Maunder, who carried out an independent investigation, told the panel: "Caroline Hannigan panicked when drug dealers turned up at her house threatening her son with violence."
She added Mrs Hannigan was "incredibly remorseful" and wanted to return to her job as she had a "deep connection" with the school.
Mrs Hannigan, who has left Glanhowy Primary and is now working as a supply teaching assistant, admits unacceptable professional misconduct.
The hearing was told she had since paid the money to the British Heart Foundation.