A school business manager has been jailed after draining her employer’s accounts of more than £220,000 to set up a taxi company in The Gambia with her boyfriend.

Kirsty Holmes, 45, and her partner Sunday Kalu, 47, siphoned off taxpayers’ money from Battersea Park School over a period of six months.

The pair enlisted friends to cash fraudulent cheques worth between £7,500 and £32,000 before the money was transferred to them. They moved to The Gambia and bought a property and a fleet of taxis and minibuses.

For three years the couple, from Gillingham, Kent, ran a transport business in the West African nation, police said.

At Kingston crown court, the couple were jailed for three and a half years after being found guilty of theft after a six-year investigation. The court heard Holmes worked at Battersea Park School from January 2009 until late 2011.

The school, in the borough of Wandsworth, was taken over and became a Harris Academy in 2014 after a damning Ofsted inspection found it was one of the worst in the country, plagued by dire results and truancy.

It has now turned around and was rated outstanding in an Ofsted report this year.

On her LinkedIn account, Holmes boasts of “29 years administrative experience” and she was “responsible for preparing annual budgets of up to £7 million and provided expertise in long-term financial management” for Battersea Park School.

Between May and November 2011 — following the 2010/2011 financial audit — 15 cheques totalling £220,209 were paid out of the school’s account.

Holmes resigned in October 2011 and left the school the following month. In January 2012 a fresh audit unearthed the cheque payouts and found there were no corresponding invoices.

Bosses at the school, which was placed in special measures in June 2013, reported the theft to police in March 2012. Detectives established the cheques had been deposited into bank accounts around Gillingham and Chatham, which were found to belong to friends of Holmes and Kalu.

The money was later deposited into the pair’s bank accounts. All the accounts involved were emptied by the end of December 2011.

Holmes was arrested at Gatwick Airport in December 2014 after returning to Britain when her relationship broke down. Kalu was arrested the following year. Both denied knowledge of the theft and blamed each other.

Ds Donnett Oseni, the Met CID officer who led the investigation, said: “This was a very difficult case that took more than six years to bring to trial, with most witnesses reluctant to give evidence.

“Holmes abused a position of trust by stealing school funds — taxpayers’ money that was intended for the running of the school and the education of the students. The jail sentence handed down reflects the seriousness of the offence.

“I hope this case sends out the message that we will pursue prosecutions, even when years pass and the suspect thinks they have evaded authorities.”

Source: https://www.standard.co.uk

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