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Hartlepool school cook on trial charged over £60,000 theft of dinner money

St Hild's Church of England School on King Oswy Drive in Hartlepool.
St Hild's Church of England School on King Oswy Drive in Hartlepool.

A school cook has gone on trial accused of stealing more than £60,000 of dinner money.

Paula Kester is alleged to have taken advantage of slack accounting procedures to pinch the money over a four-year period.

St Hild's Church of England School on King Oswy Drive in Hartlepool.

St Hild's Church of England School on King Oswy Drive in Hartlepool.

Kester, who was head cook at St Hild’s School in Hartlepool, had sole responsibility for counting cash paid by pupils using a pre-payment card scheme, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, said: “Dinners were paid for using a card scheme.

“Pupils would put their card and money into one of five machines, known as revaluation machines, which would transfer the cash value to the card.

“At the end of the day there was quite a large amount of cash in the various machines.

The case is being heard at Teesside Crown Court.

The case is being heard at Teesside Crown Court.

“As head cook, it was Ms Kester’s sole responsibility to count the money and prepare it for the bank.

“Ms Kester would make a declaration saying how much money there was.”

Mr Towers said there was a ‘large gap’ in the school’s processes. The machines produced a printout of how much money they had taken that day,” Mr Towers told the jury.

No one compared that printout to the amount declared by Ms Kester.

“Over the four-year period, more than £60,000 of dinner money paid into the machines went missing.

“It is the prosecution’s case that only she had the opportunity to create the false record and take the money.

“The system, you may feel, was inadequate, it was comparatively easy for the head cook to abuse the trust placed in her and take advantage of it.”

The jury was told Kester is alleged to have taken money many times during the four years, but not every day.

Mr Towers said the prosecution could not say where the money had gone, but Kester had paid £20,000 in cash into her bank during the four years.

An investigation was launched in April 2016 after an external auditor uncovered discrepancies in the accounts.

“This eventually involved the police,” said Mr Towers.

“During her interview with officers, Ms Kester seemed to accept money may have gone missing, but she said she had not taken it.

“She offered no alternative explanation.

“The police looked into her finances, many cash transactions leave no trace, particularly years later.

“The £20,000 cash paid into her bank account is barely a third of the missing money, but we say that is a potential explanation of what happened to some of it.”

Kester, 53, of Percy Street, Hartlepool, denies four charges of theft between September 2012 and April 2016.

The case continues.