Hartlepool school dinner money records were in a ‘chaotic’ state, claim prosecutors in £60,000 theft case

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.

Records of school dinner money were found in a plastic container in a pantry in the kitchen of a Hartlepool school, a court has heard.

School head cook Paula Kester, accused of stealing more than £60,000 of dinner money, kept records that were in a ‘chaotic’ state, a jury at Teesside Crown Court has been told.

The case is being heard at Teesside Crown Court.

The case is being heard at Teesside Crown Court.

Investigators found a plastic container full of bits of paper in the pantry of the kitchen of St Hild’s School in Hartlepool.

Many daily cash record sheets were missing, and records that were there were not in order, the court heard.

Kester, is alleged to have stolen money pupils paid for their dinners using a pre-payment card scheme.

She was responsible for counting the takings from five machines in the school and responsible for preparing the money to be banked.

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.

Prosecutors allege Kester took advantage of lax procedures to bank less than what was taken, pocketing the difference.

Some days no money was banked at all, despite the school’s payment machines often taking £1,200 or more a day in cash.

Lynne Bell, from facilities management at Hartlepool Borough Council, told the court she made an intial investigation into Kester.

“To start with we were just concerned with tha last acadmic year Mrs Kester was there.” said Mrs Bell.

“That was the period from September 2015 to April 2016.

“Records were supposed to be kept for five years, but what I found was chaotic.

“There were sheets missing and nothing was in order.”

The jury heard the pre-payment machines in the school, known as revaluation machines, produced a printout of how much they had taken that day.

Only Kester saw those printouts, which meant when she counted the day’s takings she was able to put up less money for banking, or not put up any money for banking.

“Processes have since been changed,” said Mrs Bell.

“The takings reports from the machines must now be sent with the banking to the school’s finance department.

“Any discrepancy will be apparent.”

Kester is alleged to have stolen money on many days, but not every day, in the four years from 2012.

The jury was told of an example day in 2014 on which the machines took £1,200, Kester counted the same sum, but no money ever reached the bank.

On another day she counted £1,300, but only £450 was recorded as banked which investigators suspect was the cheques taken that day.

Prosecutor Martin Towers said Kester often counted money early in the morning when it was unlikely any other member of kitchen staff was present.

He added: “At the time she was the only person who had responsibility for both counting the money taken from the machines and for preparing it to be banked.

“No one else routinely looked at the takings reports from the machines.”

Kester was interviewed by police in November, 2016.

She told officers it appeared money had gone missing, but she had not taken it.

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

The case continues.