Former academy principal who adapted office for sex pleads guilty to fraud

Janet Downs's picture

James Stewart, who had been head of Sawtry Community College in Cambridgeshire for 30 years and oversaw its academy conversion, pleaded guilty to fraud at Cambridge Crown Court this month.  The former vice-principal, Alan Stevens, previously pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud last month at Peterborough.

The charges against both men followed an investigation into ‘significant financial irregularity’ at Sawtry in 2014.     The academy was taken over by CMAT early in 2015 and upgraded to Requires Improvement the following December.  CMAT has mounted a campaign to rebuild the school’s tarnished image. 

The tribunal heard that Stewart stole £100k from school funds during his headship.   A quarter of this, £24,544, was taken after the school became an academy.  Stewart gave himself an unauthorised pay rise but only worked an average of 2-3 days a week.  He regularly left school early to go to the races.

The stolen cash was used to purchase alcohol, hotel bar bills, ski trips, food, mobile contracts and sundry items.   The tribunal heard Stewart had adapted his office to have sex.  How the office was furnished to facilitate sexual relations isn’t reported but a bed in the corner would be difficult to hide.

What is remarkable is the length of time Stewart got away with defrauding the school and behaving in a totally unprofessional manner.  Company House records show the academy accounts for years ending 31 August 2012 and 31 August 2013 were signed off by auditors.  Governors said they weren’t aware of anything which suggested school funds weren’t being used for the benefit of pupils as intended.  But an Ofsted monitoring report dated July 2014 issued shortly after Stewart resigned said the Governing Body had been ‘unaware of their responsibilities and had neglected to hold the academy’s dysfunctional leadership to account.’ 

Stewart and Stevens will be sentenced in October.

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