Belfast Telegraph

Fraudster principal avoids prison

By Ashleigh McDonald

A former primary school headmaster awarded an MBE for services to education will be remembered as a fraudster rather than for all the good he did, a judge said yesterday.

However, Ex-Dromora Primary School principal Stanley Poots avoided prison after the judge suspended his 18-month jail term for three years.

The 71-year-old, whose address was given as c/o Dromara Primary School on the Hillsborough Road in Dromara, admitted 14 charges, including false representation, false accounting and forgery. Between 2006 and 2011 the fraudster forged board of governors' signatures to secure a pay rise for himself and used school funds for to pay for the pruning of trees on his property.

He also forged the signature of another principal to secure funds for a project and falsified a Big Lottery Fund application form.

The total money involved amounted to around £15,000. Poots has made available more than £11,500 to be paid in compensation to those affected.

His offending began to emerge in August 2011, when he was retiring and the incoming principal was attempting to familiarise himself with school systems.

Several days after taking up his post the new principal was contacted by the local education board about what appeared to be a payment irregularity. An investigation discovered money had been withdrawn from the school account, and a subsequent search of Poots' house found the relevant chequebook.

Prosecuting barrister Nicola Auret said that while Poots had come before the court with no previous convictions, he had committed a "gross breach of trust... and abused his position as a school principal". She also said his offending was "not a one-off", but was carried out over five years.

Defence barrister Sam Magee said that his client was an elderly man, a father-of-four and a grandfather-of-nine. He told the court it was a great shame the defendant had "blotted his copybook", but he would never appear before the courts again.

Mr Magee insisted Poots had "tarnished what has been an distinguished career spanning almost five decades", which included an honour from the Queen for services to education.

The barrister also highlighted that Poots would be remembered for the matters before court, rather than the work he has undertaken with the school.

Regarding the offending itself, the barrister said it was not the case that money was being used for projects that were not carried out, adding on some occasions his client "took it upon himself to sign an application for grants on behalf of others."

Accepting that "the manner in which he conducted business was not always in an honest fashion", Mr Magee said it was his client's case that a majority of the time he felt he was acting in the best interests of the school.

Passing sentence, Judge Lynch told Poots: "Your good character has been besmirched and you will be remembered as the principal convicted of fraud."

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