Thieving Keswick School finance manager ordered to pay back £76k

Ghislain Sharron Smithson Credit: Cumbria Police

A finance manager who stole up to £188,000 while working at a Cumbrian school has been ordered to hand over ill-gotten gains totalling almost £76,000 as compensation.

Ghislain Sharron Smithson, 52, splashed out on holidays at thousands of pounds a time as she raided precious Keswick School reserves while in day-to-day control of its purse strings during a decade of trusted employment.

Between 2012 and 2018, trusted Smithson created fake companies and bogus invoices to channel cash for her own benefit, over £100,000 being diverted through around 50 separate transactions into a single account in her name during a four-year period.

A software glitch also allowed her to authorise payments from school accounts using her signature alone - despite dual signatures actually being required.

Smithson even continued to steal despite attending crucial budget meetings at which colleagues battled to cut costs and avoid job losses. Her illegal activity was finally uncovered when she moved jobs and irregularities came to light. She was jailed for 32 months in December, and remains in custody.

Keswick School Credit: ITV News

In an impact statement, the school’s head teacher had described Smithson’s theft as “devastating”, and had a huge knock-on effect.

Police investigators used tough Proceeds of Crime Act legislation to trawl through her finances going back several years in a bid to wrestle back illegally-obtained cash.

And at Carlisle Crown Court today, it emerged her total benefit from her criminal conduct actually amounted to £208,094.61. Her available assets available for seizure were found to total £75,889.21, comprising her equity in a house which is being sold along with two pension policies.

Announcing that the figures were agreed by all parties, prosecutor Peter Barr told the court: “We ask that that (available amount) be payment as compensation to Keswick School, payable within three months, please.”

Recorder Katherine Pierpoint formally ordered that the money be handed over within three months, should act as compensation and that Smithson, previously of Sandybeck Way, Cockermouth, should serve an additional 12-month jail term in default if it is not.