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

Linda Whittaker sobbed and clutched a tissue to her face when told she had been “rumbled” for dishonestly submitting timesheets for her friend Patricia Hickman at Osborne School between 2008 and 2010.

Judge Jane Miller QC said head teacher Sonia O’Donnell had been told that Hickman’s work was voluntary, even though it was being secretly claimed for.

“Together you manipulated the system. The claims were put in in an underhand manner,” she said.

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

The court was told how Whittaker attempted suicide after the jury returned a guilty verdict 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: “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.

“I am told that you are suitable for unpaid work, it may even be therapeutic for you.”

Defence counsel David Reid said in mitigation 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.

But when auditors visited the school in September 2010 to check financial records, timesheets were found to be missing from the archives.

The public gallery was full of Whittaker’s supporters, who embraced her as she continued weeping after the sentencing.

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

The court heard how Ms Hickman is not being pursued by Hampshire County Council for the £18,000 overtime payments that she received as a result of the fraud. the council was asked to explain but has not responded.