A ‘trusted and long-serving’ staff member ‘denied children an education’ when she stole money while working at a primary school, a court has heard.

Colette Melia, 58, was a former administrative assistant of Bacup Holy Trinity Stacksteads C.E. Primary School, in Booth Road, having left when headteacher John Aspin finally saw through her dishonesty and lies.

Mark Stephenson, prosecuting at Burnley Crown Court, said Melia had written three cheques to herself, one for £250, one for £350 and one for £450 – a total of £1,050, from the school over a period of five months between March and August 2017.

She put a fake signature on them, pretending it was that of the deputy headteacher at the time, Mrs Warburton, and paid them into her account.

Melia’s offending came to light when it was discovered invoices had not been paid to a stationery company.

While investigating this, the three fraudulent cheques were discovered. 

Mr Stephenson said: “When matters came to light, the headmaster went to see Melia to discuss what was going on.

“He was told she went home stating she was sick. She did not return to work.

“She must have realised her time was up.”

In a victim impact statement on behalf of himself, the staff, the children and the parents of Holy Trinity School, Mr Aspin said Melia had been a ‘trusted and valued member of the team’, and this was an act of selfishness and dishonestly.

Reading his statement to the court, he said: “Your actions in stealing the money you did is a huge breach to me, your colleagues, the children and parents at the school.

“To realise you were taking amounts of cash to finance your lifestyle had a huge impact on everyone involved.

“We are here for the future of the children; you were there for yourself.

“It was due to be spent on their education. You denied them that.

“They are the true victims of your crimes.”

Melia was due to face a disciplinary hearing but resigned the day before, however, headteacher Mr Aspin said the hearing went ahead without her and it was found that she committed gross misconduct and would have lost her job.

She told probation she had taken the money as she felt she was not being paid enough and she was working at weekends, claiming it was compensation for this.

In mitigation, Mark Stuart said Melia, of Carlton Street, Bacup, was remorseful about her actions and the taking of £1,000 was not a huge amount of money that could have been used to fund any kind of ‘lavish lifestyle’.

She admitted when first asked in interview about the cheques and pleaded guilty at her first opportunity in court.

Melia pleaded guilty to three counts of theft and one count of false accounting.

In sentencing, Recorder Ciaran Rankin handed her a six-month sentence, suspended for two years.

Mr Rankin said: "The impact you had on the school has been significant and not in a positive way.

"Your former colleagues are appalled and disgusted by your behaviour.

"The children have suffered undoubted losses because of your behaviour.

"You have caused a great deal of upset and caused your former colleagues to waste an enormous amount of time and energy to get to the bottom of what you did."

She must also complete 200 hours of unpaid work, to ‘pay back into the community’.