THE BURSAR of a special needs school has been given an 18-month suspended jail sentence for swindling £18,000 in faked overtime claims.

Linda Whittaker sobbed when told she had been “rumbled” for dishonestly submitting timesheets for pal Patricia Hickman, who was working at the Winchester school between 2008 and 2010.

Winchester Crown Court heard how Sonia O’Donnell, the headteacher of Osborne School, had believed Ms Hickman was working there voluntarily – but the work she was doing was being secretly claimed for.

And Judge Jane Miller QC took the unusual step of suggesting Ms Hickman should have appeared in the dock as well – but she was never charged with any criminal offence.

She told Whittaker: “Together you manipulated the system. The claims were put in in an underhand manner.

“I have doubts that the work was ever done by her. There should have been a second person in the dock with you.”

The court heard how Whittaker attempted suicide after the jury convicted her on one of the two counts for which she was tried in February.

She was acquitted of fraudulently claiming £54,000 in overtime payments for herself.

Judge Miller said a high degree of trust had been breached and told her: “You were the school bursar and you ran the finances. All these time sheets were authorised by you or not at all.”

However pre-sentence reports, presented to the court, showed that Whittaker, of Lovedon Lane, Kings Worthy, suffered from depression and anxiety, and was prone to panic attacks.

“I have accepted that your health is not good, particularly the psychiatric report. I have accepted that this would make custody very hard,” said Judge Miller, as she ordered the 66-year-old to do 200 hours community service.

David Reid, mitigating, said that Whittaker had found it hard to cope with the demands of her job as bursar and this was her first conviction.

The trial was told how she was in charge of a budget of £2m, was clerk to the board of governors, and often worked beyond the contractual 37 hours a week.

Osborne School, in Andover Road, declined to comment on the case.