Belfast Telegraph

Ex-principal who stole £15k from Northern Ireland school stripped of MBE honour

By Cate McCurry

A former headmaster who avoided being sent to jail after he was caught siphoning money from his Co Down school has been stripped of his MBE.

Stanley Poots, who was principal of Dromara Primary School, was handed a suspended prison sentence after admitting to a series of fraud charges.

The 72-year-old was among 11 people in the UK stripped of their honours for bringing the system into disrepute.

The decision was taken by the Honours Forfeiture Committee, who sends their recommendation to the Queen for approval.

Poots, who was principal at the school for 41 years, received an MBE in 2011 for services to education.

In court last year he pleaded guilty to 14 offences including fraud by false representation, false accounting and forgery.

Craigavon Crown Court heard that the series of offences occurred between October 2006 and November 2011.

They included forging the signature of the school's board of governors to secure a pay rise for himself and using funds from the school's account to pay for trees on his property to be pruned.

He also forged the signature of a fellow primary school principal to gains funds for a project and falsified a Big Lottery Fund application form.

The total amount of money totalled £15,000.

The court heard how as the headmaster he had responsibility over the day-to-day running of the school budget.

His offences began to emerge in August 2011 when he was retiring and the new principal visited the school to familiarise himself with staff and the school's system.

Days into his post, the new principal was contacted by the Southern Education and Library Board about an irregularity in relation to a payment.

Investigations revealed that money was being withdrawn from the school account.

Poots' home was subsequently searched and the account's chequebook was recovered.

The court was told that an amount of £800 was withdrawn from the school account months after he left his post at the school.

He later claimed he intended to use the money to pay people who had helped him at the school over the years.

Poots also admitted forging documents in order to give himself a pay rise, despite no discussion taking place with the board of governor's regarding his salary.

He also used £500 of the school's funds to pay for trees on his property to be pruned.

Poots, who had a clear record, was handed an 18-month suspended prison sentence in March last year.

Judge Lynch told Poots that his "good character had been besmirched".

He added that he would always be remembered as the principal convicted of fraud.

Poots was also the former president of the Ulster Teachers' Union.

He began his career at Dromore Central Primary School before moving to Dromara Primary School, where he was headmaster for over four decades.

The retired principal, who is married with four grown-up sons, served as head of the UTU for a year between 2007 and 2008.

He was also chairman of a Department of Education working group.

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