Sunderland single mum's fraudulent bid to pocket £26,000 teaching bursary by claiming she had a degree

A Sunderland single mum has avoided a jail term for trying to fraudulently obtain a £26,000 teaching bursary by claiming she had a degree.

Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 6:02 pm

Emma Fitzpatrick, 35, filled in forms and set up an email account to try to access the PGCE funding which would have allowed her to train as a teacher.

But South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court heard that her crime, though deliberately planned, was not likely to have fooled the funding body which checked her application.

The court was told she had started a degree in Dublin and then completed one year of a pharmacy degree at Sunderland University after moving to the city in 2009 but had given it up to look after her son.

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Emma Fitzpatrick
Emma Fitzpatrick

In her bid to pocket the cash to fulfil a genuine desire to become a teacher, unemployed Fitzpatrick changed documents to show she had gained a bursary qualifying degree from Dublin.

Her crime was uncovered after she submitted her application to education chiefs in Sunderland who checked her claimed qualifications.

No prosecution outline of the case was read to the court, but Richard Copsey, defending, said: “The application was very straightforward, what was most sophisticated was the creation of an email account.

“What she tells me is she would have made this application if the money was there or not. She wanted to be a qualified teacher.

“She came to Sunderland 12 years ago and wanted to get back into education, she wanted to become a teacher.

“She was never going to get a cheque for £26,000, it was unlikely she would have got the money.

“It was almost inevitable that she was going to be caught, there are strenuous checks. The reason that she made up the account was that she panicked.”

District Judge Kathryn Meek told Fitzpatrick, who has no previous convictions: “I’m at a loss how you got yourself in this situation. You’re an intelligent woman who manages in clearly difficult circumstances.

“You must have known that this was never going to happen, and how risky it was, where it was so serious.

“If you’d got on that course you’d have been working in schools and had a qualification to educate children in tight statutory guidelines. It is a very serious matter.

“There was clearly some planning. It was a badly planned incident. I accept that you cooperated fully with the police, once you spoke to them on a voluntary basis.”

Fitzpatrick, who pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation between July 1 and November 10, was sentenced to an 18-month community order with a requirement of 25 days of rehabilitation work with the Probation Service and 200 hours of unpaid work.

She must also pay a £90 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.