Glemsford: Suspended head faces hearing over alleged computer fraud

A HEADTEACHER suspended from a school involved in an alleged �600,000 computer equipment scandal has been asked to face a disciplinary hearing.

Glemsford Community Primary principal, Elizabeth Steele, has been suspended since January when the school was left owing thousands of pounds after signing a lease on 100 laptop computers.

Mrs Steele was told by the county council to stay at home while an investigation into the alleged fraud by the company who supplied the laptops was carried out, but she has always hoped to return to the job.

However on Tuesday, she received a letter requesting that she attend a disciplinary hearing on May 17 and 18. The council has cited several reasons for the hearing, some of which refer to the “computer fraud”.

Suffolk County Council is currently awaiting a decision from Education Secretary Michael Gove on whether it can replace the school’s entire board of governors. But in the meantime, the local authority has already taken away the board’s powers relating to staffing and budget.

Out of more than 430 schools involved in the same suspected fraud across the UK, it is believed that only one other headteacher has been suspended, and all of the other schools’ governors have been backed by their local education authorities. Mr Gove’s office could not comment on individual cases, but did confirm that the Glemsford case was “unusual”.

Mrs Steele’s husband, Eddie Steele, told the EADT the case had turned both their lives “upside down”. He added: “Liz has been a teacher for 39 years with an unblemished record. This has devastated her and has effectively ruined our lives.”

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Chairman of governors Duncan Grafen said he believed the council was waiting for Mr Gove to “rubber stamp” a decision it had already made.

“Although they cannot replace the board without the Education Secretary’s say so, they have taken away the delegated budget and any powers we have in relation to staffing, which are the key elements,” Mr Grafen said.

“By taking away these powers, it has prevented us from reinstating Mrs Steele or from seeing the report (into the alleged fraud) that has been produced and I believe that is what they (the local education authority) set out to do.”

Suffolk County Council declined to comment on Mrs Steele’s case, but a spokesman said: “The county council is disappointed and concerned about comments that have been made in relation to Glemsford Primary School.

“The council has now received and reviewed the report from the independent person who has been investigating these matters. This is clearly a sensitive and confidential case and it would therefore be inappropriate to provide any more detail at this stage.”

In relation to the board of governors, the spokesman added: “The matter is now before the Secretary of State and the Department for Education has confirmed that no decision has yet been made.

“Pending the Secretary of State’s decision, the governing body no longer has the power to manage or make decisions regarding any of the school’s finances. In addition, it does not have any authority to make any decisions in respect of staffing - including appointment, recruitment or disciplinary procedures.”

The computer leasing problem arose after Glemsford Primary was allegedly approached by a sales person from a company called Direct Technology Solutions Ltd, who said the firm would supply the laptops without charge as part of a promotion. But when the company went into administration, the school was left exposed to thousands of pounds worth of liabilities.