A GREEDY Cradley Heath woman who helped rip off the school where she was secretary to the tune of nearly £440,000 has been jailed for four years three months.

Deborah Jones, of Barrs Road, went of a string of expensive shopping sprees buying top range goods including designer clothing and shoes, antiques and oil paintings with her partner in crime headteacher Michelle Hollingsworth, who was jailed for five and a half years.

Hollingsworth, aged 55, had worked at Annie Lennard primary in Smethwick for 29 years and she had been head since 2005 while Jones joined her in 1995.

Then, over a five year period, the pair used the school cheque book for their own gain as they travelled to boutiques and shopping outlets to buy luxury goods, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

The corrupt Hollingsworth and 57-year-old Jones were able to carry out the crooked racket after the school was authorised to take control of its own financial affairs by Sandwell Council.

The pair were also pocketing cash that should have been used to benefit the school and its pupils with tradesmen being paid for work that was either overpriced or completely invented.

Hollingsworth, who lives in a £1 million house in Hatherton Park, Cannock, was the mastermind behind the scam and together with Jones the pair left the school with a loss of around £512,000.

Jones, of Barrs Road, Cradley Heath. was involved in at least £439,000 of the loss, said Mr Mark Jackson prosecuting for Sandwell Council.

Hollingsworth was found guilty by the jury at the end of her trial of conspiracy to defraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Jones admitted conspiracy with the headteacher to defraud the council and creating work supposedly carried out by workmen.

She was further convicted by the jury on two other charges of conspiracy to defraud with other workmen who were involved in the scam.

Judge Simon Ward said Hollingsworth had great responsibility at the school where she and Jones were in a position of trust.

The conspiracies would not have happened, he went on without Hollingsworth who was clearly the lynch pin of all that took place.

"You amassed a small network of people who each became involved in your dishonest scheme," concluded the Judge.

The trial was told that Hollingsworth and Jones made 180 visits to top range stores to buy expensive goods with the school cheque book including oil paintings.

Hollingworth's husband Joseph, aged 58, was jailed for a year for his involvement in the criminality while four other workmen were handed suspended prison sentences for the part they played.

Sandwell Council’s Chief Executive David Stevens said: "It's important to remember that at the heart of this trial is a school full of children who have had money syphoned away from their education to line the pockets of these criminals.

“The school staff have done an admirable job in maintaining standards at Annie Lennard despite this ordeal and can now move on knowing those responsible have been punished.

"We will now work to recover the losses from the school fund and cover the cost of investigating and prosecuting those convicted."

Darren Carter, Executive Director of Resources at Sandwell Council, praised the teams involved in the case.

He said: "The teams involved have painstakingly picked apart the fraudulent activities of all those convicted.

"Without the hard work of those members of council staff, this large-scale fraud may never have been uncovered."