Leytonstone News

Leytonstone headteacher faked doctor’s notes to hide mental health struggles

She was sacked after an investigation by school governors and the council
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Leytonstone School in Colworth Road (credit: Google Streetview)
Leytonstone School in Colworth Road (credit: Google Streetview)

​​A former Leytonstone headteacher who used faked doctor’s notes to take time off work was trying to hide her mental health struggles, a judge has revealed.

Grainne Smyth, 52, forged medical certificates and letters to bolster her claim that she had taken sick leave four times in 2018 due to an acute kidney inflammation.

When investigators from Waltham Forest Council questioned her about the documents, she immediately admitted she had bought the documents online and was charged with fraud.

During sentencing, Judge Caroline English accepted the former headteacher of Leytonstone School was suffering from mental health issues due to “incredibly taxing and emotionally draining” work responsibilities.

She added: “You now acknowledge that your focus was on concealing the true nature of your ill-health from your employers, for fear of being stigmatised, of being considered to be weak, and of being dismissed from your position.

“I have no doubt that there are still people, particularly females, in leading roles such as you were, who would balk at the idea of acknowledging that they are struggling mentally because that would still be considered to be a weakness.

“The sad irony is that I have no doubt, that had you revealed the true nature of your condition, you would have been entitled to sick pay in any event.”

Smyth pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 11th January and was ordered to complete 120 hours unpaid work and 30 days of rehabilitation activity with the Probation Service.

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She was at risk of receiving a prison sentence, but the judge said her case was “unique,” with a number of mitigating factors.

These included the former headteacher’s “extreme intelligence and ability” and a career spent seeking out “challenging placements in socially deprived areas”.

The judge added: “Despite having endured a troubled and abusive background yourself, you did not shirk from taking on a pastoral role at the schools you worked at, providing support and care for children who reported issues of abuse, despite the fact that you clearly found such responsibilities incredibly taxing and emotionally draining.

“It is unsurprising, therefore, that you developed mental health issues, and that you struggled to cope on occasions.

“In addition to the pressures you experienced at work, you also, close to the time of the commission of these offences, were forced to endure the breakdown of a long term relationship, which led to the upheaval of moving out of your home, and into accommodation by yourself, thereby increasing your sense of isolation and depression.”

In support of Smyth a character reference letter was also sent to the judge by retired headteacher and school inspector Dame Joan McVittie.

Councillor Liaquat Ali, Waltham Forest’s cabinet member for transformation and commercial operations said the council takes all allegations of fraud “extremely seriously”.

He added: “We expect the highest standards from all council staff and contractors, and we will always work hard to detect and thoroughly investigate fraud. 

“We have a duty to ensure that council taxpayer’s money is used to fund local services and support those who need our assistance.”

Residents who suspect fraud can report it anonymously to the council’s 24-hour fraud hotline on 0300 003 1099 or by emailing [email protected].

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