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Sunday 21 September 2014

Ex-school supervisor admits €24,000 scam

Greg Harkin

Published 14/02/2013 | 04:00

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A RETIRED school supervisor has pleaded guilty to an online expenses scam that netted him more than €20,000.

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Former Sligo Rovers goalkeeper John Fintan Brett (67) admitted one count of deception at Sligo Circuit Court yesterday.

Brett, of Cleveragh Road in the town, admitted taking €24,122 from the Department of Education on dates between March 2008 and June 2009 while he was working at Summerhill College.

The trial began yesterday afternoon of a former school secretary, who also faces one charge of deception using the department's online expenses system.

Edel Byron, (40), of Ashbrook, Collooney, has pleaded not guilty to taking €24,122.

The prosecution told the jury that Ms Byron was trained on a system of online payment whereby she was given a pin code and she inputted the claims for Brett knowing that she shouldn't have done it.

She said Brett, who played for Rovers in the 1960s, was paid as a school supervisor out of a grant from the department.

However, payments were also made via an online system that should have only been used to pay substitute teachers.

In her evidence, member of the Summerhill College board of management Sister Patricia Tomlinson told the court that when she raised these payments with the then principal Michael Murphy, he failed to explain them.

She agreed with Colm Smyth SC, defending, that Mr Murphy was "a Walter Mitty" character who was "a chieftain in his own fiefdom". The former principal, said Mr Smyth, "was arrested but is not a witness in these proceedings".

Sr Tomlinson, who ran the finance sub-committee at the school from October 2007, said that she discovered Brett had a contract for 39 hours per week and described this as highly unusual.

Supervisors, she explained, were employed mainly for supervision at break times or study hall periods to cover times when teachers were not available.

The nun said she checked minutes from meetings before her arrival and could find no record of previous board members approving Brett's contract.

She said when Mr Murphy failed to answer her questions, she asked the department for advice. It was then she also discovered that Brett was receiving payments as a substitute teacher.

The defence asked: "The wages were more than the department had provided for?"

Sr Tomlinson replied: "I found it all unusual."

The defence said that Mr Murphy had claimed in a letter to her that Brett was giving €100 per week back to the school because he said the school was in debt. No search ever found this money, she said.

Father Michael Duignan, chair of the college board of management, was also asked by defence counsel about what answers he received from Mr Murphy when issues were raised about school finances.

"I was concerned that I was not getting adequate answers," said Fr Duignan, who added that he brought in outside experts to examine his concerns.

The trial continues today.

Irish Independent

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