Academy handed £2m for building repairs after disgraced head squandered cash on 'sex den'

Sawtry Village Academy fell into disrepair after years of neglect by its former principal James Stewart, who is now in jail for fraud and misconduct in a public office

Jonathan Owen

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A local authority is spending £2 million on bailing out an academy school that fell into disrepair after its former principal squandered funds on turning his office into a sex den.

Cambridge County Council has decided to step in to help the Sawtry Village Academy. It has asked the Education and Skills Funding Agency for another £1.5 million, but the funds "aren't forthcoming", according to the Cambridge News.

The school has been struggling with the legacy left by its disgraced former principal, James Stewart, who defrauded the school out of more than £100,000.

In October this year, Stewart was sentenced to four years in prison, after pleading guilty to four counts of fraud, two counts of aiding and abetting fraud and one count of misconduct in public office. The offences took place between 2011 and 2014.

'Fallen into disrepair'

Money that could have been spent on school maintenance was put to non-educational uses, such as furnishing Stewart’s office with sex toys, rugs and a fridge full of champagne.

As a result of the neglect, the school is now in such bad condition that emergency repairs are needed to ensure the safety of pupils.

Sawtry councillor Simon Bywater told the meeting of his shock at seeing the state of the school. “I was gobsmacked. It was tragic to see what was happening. There were rotten floors and water coming through the ceiling.”

Sarah Wilson, principal of Sawtry Village Academy, told the paper: “Two of our school buildings, in particular, have fallen into disrepair. Maintaining school buildings requires leadership from people who manage the budget for it and are mindful of opportunities to put bids in for funding.”

Controversial move

The decision to give the academy £2 million in funding was made despite opposition from some councillors.

Previously known as Sawtry Community College, the school became an academy in 2011 and has been part of the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust since 2015.

Joan Whitehead, Labour leader on the county council, said: “Once a school becomes an academy, it is not our responsibility. The responsibility lies with the governing body and the Secretary of State.” She added: “We don’t have a big pot of money. Our budget is currently £5 million short of funds, yet here we are offering £2 million to a school that is not our responsibility.”

The funding from the council was welcomed by Denise Pike, a member of the academy’s governing body.

She said: “This will cover the most urgent building repairs, but it won’t cover the rest of the refurbishment needed on the site. We are trying to get ESFA funding of about £1.5 million. We are having great difficulty with that.”

The ESFA has been approached for comment.

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Jonathan Owen

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