Principal who stole from school avoids jail

Colleen Gray and Bruce Gray. Photo / HOS

A principal and her husband who admitted siphoning more than $30,000 from a decile one school in South Auckland have been sentenced to home detention and community work and ordered to pay reparations to the school.

Colleen Margaret Gray, 66, pleaded guilty in March to nine charges of dishonestly using a document and two of using a forged document.

Her husband Bruce Kenneth Gray, 65, pleaded guilty to four charges of dishonestly using a document.

The charges related to money which, instead of going towards pupils' education at Mayfield Primary School in Otara, the couple splashed out on themselves, using it to jet to Australia and to London.

Mrs Gray, who was a member of the New Zealand Principals' Federation executive, also used the school credit card for food at Mecca at Mission Bay and Francoli Bar and Restaurant in Ellerslie.

The money came out of the school's annual operational grant from the Ministry of Education. The offending occurred from 2005 to early 2007.

Mrs Gray used the school funds to pay for trips to Australia and other purchases including food, flowers and Koru Club parking.

Fake invoices were filed so payments were made to companies owned by Mr Gray.

Some appeared to have been used for the pair's trip to London for "teacher recruitment purposes".

Today in the Auckland District Court Judge Rob Ronayne said there was a gross breach of trust in Mrs Gray's offending and the couple have never shown any acceptance of their wrongdoing, despite pleading guilty midway through their trial.

Judge Ronayne read a victim impact statement from the Board of Trustees at Mayfield Primary School that said principals were held in high regard in South Auckland communities.

"The honour and trust we gave to Colleen Gray has been thrown back in our faces," the statement said.

Judge Ronayne said the pre-sentence report showed Mrs Gray was self-absorbed and that she appeared to have convinced herself she "muddled herself" in to the offending.

"This was offending motivated by greed not need," he said.

Prosecutor Jessica Blythe said the school had trouble attracting staff now and couldn't predict how the lost funds could have been used to better their pupils' futures.

Defence lawyer John Tannahill said the couple could not maintain an online business while on home detention, a claim Judge Ronayne disputed.

Mrs Gray was sentenced to a year of home detention and 150 hours community service.

Mr Gray was sentenced to 10 months home detention.

The couple also paid the school $27,001.33 in reparations, the total lost in offending after GST had been paid back.

Following their guilty pleas in March, the school's board of trustees chairman at the time of the offending, Phillip Logo, told APNZ the board had an inkling something was wrong, but Mrs Gray controlled what financial information it was shown.

She also created a climate of fear among teachers, making them afraid of speaking out, Mr Logo said.

He gave evidence at the trial before they pleaded guilty and said he was more than happy to take time off work to help secure a conviction.

"Thirty thousand dollars is a lot of money at a school that doesn't have many funds. It meant resources that could have gone to kids and for teachers didn't go where it was supposed to."

By Brendan Manning, Jimmy Ellingham and Sophie Ryan of APNZ

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