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Ex-head cook jailed after stealing £60,000 dinner money from Hartlepool school

Paula Kester.
Paula Kester.

A former school head cook who stole £60,000 of the pupils' dinner money over four years has been jailed.

Hartlepool grandmother Paula Kester, 54, pocketed the money from cash machines at St Hild's Church of England School, in King Oswy Drive.

St Hild's School in Hartlepool.

St Hild's School in Hartlepool.

Judge Peter Armstrong said at Teesside Crown Court that suspicion fell on others because she continued to deny it.

Kester, of Percy Street, Hartlepool, was convicted of four charges of theft from Hartlepool Borough Council after a seven-day trial.

The offences happened between September 2012 and April 2016.

The cash came from pupils’ dinner money, the court heard previously.

Each pupil paid for their dinners by putting cash into pre-payment card machines at the school.

The court heard that dinner money records where 'chaotic' with receipts stored in a plastic container.

Kester was responsible for collecting the money from the machines - sometimes as much as £1,200 a day - and preparing it to be banked.

She would keep some of the money or, on several Fridays, she kept all of it, the court heard.

Kester claimed that the machines were faulty and that engineers were called out 22 times in one year to repair them.

Investigators found £20,000 in cash had been put through Kester’s bank account over the four years.

She claimed the money was from lottery wins, car sales, and an accident pay-out cheque which she said had to be turned into cash to pay in’.

Prosecutor Martin Towers said during the trial that there was no evidence of any of those transactions.

Martin Scarborough, defending, said that her husband of 12 years was standing by her. She had waited two years for the case to come to court and she had been ostracised by parents in the town.

The judge told her: "The evidence that it was your responsibility for this money going missing is extremely clear and you showed no remorse.

"I am afraid that despite your previous good character I am not able to avoid an immediate custodial sentence."

The judge jailed Kester for 10 months.

Kester gave a thumbs-up to her husband as she was led away.

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesperson said previously: “As soon as we became aware of an issue an investigation was launched and the matter was subsequently reported to the police.

“Paula Kester was dismissed from her job with the council in 2016.

“Procedures relating to the collection of dinner money by the council’s school meals service have been reviewed and we are confident that such a situation could not occur again.”