Top teacher’s “ice cream racket”

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By Paul Thornton

A SENIOR headteacher rented out a spot in his school’s playground to an ice-cream van for £50 per week before pocketing the cash, a tribunal has heard.

The money was never paid into the school’s account until auditors showed-up at the secondary academy and the headteacher, Donald Matheson, handed a clerical assistant a brown envelope stuffed with notes to include in the general purpose fund.

Matheson, a former president of the Headteachers’ Association of Scotland, was charged with embezzling thousands of pounds following the claims at Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh.

The 59-year-old appeared in court in relation to the allegations in January 2006 but prosecutors dropped the charges, in part, because of witness problems.

But the day he appeared in court Matheson, of Glasgow, accepted early retirement from his £70k per year position and was allowed to leave on full pension.

Argyll and Bute Council refused to reveal their reasons for giving Matheson retirement five years early.

But yesterday at a conduct hearing of the General Teaching Council of Scotland’s disciplinary sub-committee Matheson faced the same charges and faces being struck off the register.

Matheson, a former chairman of the GTC Scotland, was not at the tribunal held in Edinburgh’s Clerwood House.

His solicitor, Andrew Gibb, presented a medical certificate explaining his absence and denied the charges on his behalf.

But the office manager at the school, Maureen Purves, told the tribunal how in October 2003 an ice cream van moved into the school’s grounds and the owners began bringing wads of cash into the office.

Mrs Purves, 55, said: “Mr Matheson came and told us that the ice cream man would be bringing in money on a regular basis.

“They would come in on a Friday or whatever day was the end of that school week and they would hand in notes.

“It was always in denominations of £10 per day. Every week of the school year.

“I used to take it, put it in an envelope and mark it for Mr Matheson’s attention.

“Just mark it Mr Matheson, ice cream money.

“They came at the same time every Friday just after the school bell went. They did not make any secret of what they were doing, they slapped the money down on the counter.”

Mrs Purves said that this carried on for months and the money was never paid into the school’s accounts.

She said that when she raised worries about cash going missing Matheson insisted there was no problem.

Mrs Purves said: “The envelopes were going but it was never banked to our knowledge and the headteacher just said that nobody was under suspicion.”

However a former clerical assistant at the school told how Matheson gave her an envelope full of £20 notes the day same day auditors showed up to examine the books on May 25, 2005.

Ann Holmes had responsibility for payments into the general purpose fund which was used to collect and then pay money for school trips or to pay cheques after pupils raised money for charity.

She said: “I remember being phoned by him (Mr Matheson) to come to his office and he gave me an envelope with money in it and asked me that I should bank it that day and he was very insistent that it should go in and he wanted to know as soon as I had done it.

“A brown envelope with money inside. I was to be sure to bank this money that day and put it under donations from the ice cream van.

“I took it back down to my office and counted it.”

Ms Holmes said there was £1,650 in the envelope made up of £20 notes and a single £10 note.

She added: “He had never given me any money before to bank until that day.”

The tribunal continues.

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