Mum who stole £35,000 from primary school PTA ordered to pay back just £20

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Manchester Evening News

A mother of two who escaped jail despite stealing £35,000 from the Parent Teachers Association at a Roman Catholic primary school has been ordered to pay back just £20, The Manchester Evening News reports.

Sally Connolly had been PTA chairman at St Catherine’s School in Didsbury when she secretly helped herself to funds raised through school fetes, afternoon teas and cake sales to pay off her credit card bills.

The cash, which was taken between 2010 and 2015, was paid into accounts belonging to her 47-year-old husband John, who works as a senior trainer for a catering company, and her unsuspecting mother. Neither was aware of the source of the money.

Police were called in after inquiries revealed there was cash missing from the school’s PTA account and Connolly went into the 500 pupil school and confessed taking money in front of governors and the headmistress.

Embarrassingly for the school, PTA cheques had bounced including a payment to Francis House, a children’s hospice based in Manchester, for £1,500. Connolly had also stolen £600 from a Christmas party fund.

Last June Connolly, who had lived in a rented £450,000 detached home in Cheadle, escaped with two years jail suspended for two years after she paid back £20,000 of the missing money and claimed her ‘financially chaotic” character was to blame for the thefts.

But last week she was ordered back to Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester.

Following legal wranglings she was ordered by a judge to pay back a ‘nominal’ £20 under Proceeds of Crime laws due to her lack of assets. She will have to pay the £20 within three months or face three days in jail.

It is thought she and her children now live with her parents whilst her husband Mr Connolly lives with his parents. He is standing by her.

The court heard suspicions were raised after Connolly quit the PTA then began stonewalling over paperwork during a handover.

At the time the PTA was supposed to pay £8,000 for iPads and it was thought £11,000 was in the account – but inquiries revealed only £2,800 had been banked. It emerged Connolly had got other PTA signatories to sign blank cheques and she paid them into other accounts.

At an earlier hearing her lawyer Nicola Gatto said: “She was popular and respected and now feels ostracised and worthless. It has had a devastating impact on her children. There was a degree of procrastination and the reason for that is that she was utterly ashamed and she didn’t know how to deal with the situation.

“She told her husband who said she must immediately advise the school which she did and she admitted the offence to them. Some three and a half years has elapsed for this matter to be resolved and the impact has been very considerable indeed.

“A letter from her GP confirms she’s been on medication and her husband described her as suffering from social anxiety. She has very much withdrawn because of her shame and embarrassment. She has done everything in her power to try and remedy this situation.

“When she took over it was a lot more chaotic then it is now. She didn’t have the same degree of support. She didn’t get this role with the view to steal money. She gave many, many hours of voluntary work to make this flourish.

“She is somebody who is financially chaotic and within her household they were struggling. Her husband was working as a chef and she had an administrative job. Their salaries combined was less than £40,000.

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“After admitting this offence she had to endure a further 12 months of dropping her daughter off at school and thereafter had to attend various occasions and sit and hang her head in shame within the audience, because she was torn between supporting her daughter and was in the past well liked, well regarded.

“She was described as a devoted mother and one can only imagine the shame and self revulsion during this time period. She didn’t spend this money on luxury living, she used some of the money to supplement her family who were struggling, she has provided some evidence from debt collectors.

“They have begged and borrowed to get the £20,000. Her husband has had to return to live with his parents and she has had to return to live with her parents taking the two children with her. They are very much together as a couple.

“Ordinarily this is a very kind and caring lady who is devoted to her family. When the affairs settle the family hope to get a home together and carry on as a family.

”This lady was being stretched in many ways, sorting out the PTA, she has two elderly parents, her father recently had a heart attack and her mother suffers secondary tumours in relation to cancer – they have described her as someone who assists them with shopping and cleaning.

“When the matters emerged she was so embarrassed the police told her they may have to inform her then employer she gave it up and lost what employment she had. She has taken another job on minimum wage and a zero hour contract in catering. She’s doing it because she’s desperate to get her family back on track. She succumbed to temptation, perhaps deluded she could pay this money back.”

But in a statement Gillian Rennison who took over as PTA chairman from Connolly said: ”It’s so sad the children at the school and those left will not have the benefit from the money raised. This includes £19,000 raised by the PTA – before she took over – due to hard work and generosity.

“Parents expected that to benefit their children but only £4,390 was provided in 2011 to the school and that was the only figure provided whilst Sally was the chair. Four years of hard work for nothing and a betrayal of trust.

”This whole situation has made me and fellow committee members feel sick, angry and betrayed. I’ve no doubt these feelings will extend to the many parents in the school.

“The actions of one person can take so much from innocent children at the school. We are seeking to protect the good reputation of the school and will have to show there are processes and procedures in place to show this will never happen again.

“The repercussions of this terrible situation will stay with the school for a very long time. I can hope the community can move forward and put this behind them and continue to work together for the benefit of the children.”

Speaking on Tuesday Keith Graham, a financial investigator for Greater Manchester Police said: “In the future Mrs Connolly may have realisable assets and the benefit figure remains with her for the rest of her life.

”She will always be liable to future confiscation proceedings should assets be identified that is why the court order a nominal order to be paid to allow that process to begin in the future if appropriate.”

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