Fraudster head plans her future

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Former nun who stole thousands of pounds from her school wants to be a drugs counsellor after serving a reduced sentence. Adi Bloom reports

Colleen McCabe, the headteacher who was jailed after forcing pupils to sit in unheated classrooms while she spent pound;500,000 of her school's budget on personal luxuries, has said she now hopes to counsel drug users after her release from prison.

Mrs McCabe's solicitor, Tony Marshall, revealed the former nun's intention following a reduction in her sentence earlier this week at a hearing before the criminal court of appeal.

Mrs McCabe, the former head of St John Rigby comprehensive in Bromley, south London, had her sentence cut from five years to four.

She will now be eligible for parole within the next 10 months.

On her release, Mrs McCabe is unlikely to be able to work in education again, but Mr Marshall said her time in prison had inspired an idea for a new career.

He said: "She's been talking about the way drugs are so prolific in prison and how so many females are in prison because of drugs. It's been a real eye-opener.

"So she's talking about going into drugs counselling.

"She's developed a real interest in the whole process of offending. It's the next stage on from her original vocation - as a nun caring for other people."

Mrs McCabe, 51, was jailed in September after being found guilty of siphoning off school funds to finance a five-year spending spree.

She used her school credit card - which had a monthly limit of pound;7,500 - to fund a lavish lifestyle that included expensive jewellery, tickets to West End shows and a trip on the Orient Express for her parents.

She also spent more than pound;7,000 on shoes.

Bromley education authority reported that she spent more than pound;500,000 of the school's budget on herself and forced teachers to work in unheated, uncleaned classrooms.

But during the trial, the prosecution was only able to prove theft to the value of pound;82,000. On those grounds, Mr Marshall believes that a five-year sentence was excessive.

He said: "The judges sentenced her on issues that couldn't be proved.

"They don't have particular sympathy for her, but they had to reduce the sentence on legal guidelines.

"She is quite accepting of what's gone on, but it's a part of her life that's closed. Now she wants to get on with the rest."

The three judges who heard the appeal acknowledged that the initial sentence was "excessive", but they reiterated that Mrs McCabe's crimes were "particularly serious".

They also highlighted the fact that, when contesting the case, Mrs McCabe had attempted to blame her co-defendant, Maureen Stapley, the school bursar.

Ms Stapley was subsequently acquitted.

A spokesperson for Bromley education authority said: "We felt that it was entirely deserved that Colleen McCabe was sent to prison.

"It was a serious crime, and we were glad she was brought to justice. But the length of the sentence is a matter for the court of appeal."

The council has now applied for permission to sell Mrs McCabe's home to recoup the funds it lost as a result of the theft.

John Stanley, the present headteacher of St John Rigby, does not believe that the length of Mrs McCabe's sentence will have a significant impact on the school.

"Some people think her original sentence wasn't enough," Mr Stanley said.

"But it's important to remember that this was an appeal against the severity of the sentence. Her guilt wasn't overturned.

"We just want to let go now.

"When she's released, she won't be having anything to do with the school."

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