Sheffield music teacher staged bogus exams with phoney official

Music teacher Helen Smith at Sheffield Magistrates' Court. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Music teacher Helen Smith at Sheffield Magistrates' Court. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A MUSIC teacher has been convicted of staging a scam which saw unsuspecting students take bogus piano exams in front of a phoney official.

A court heard during a trial how five students had paid fees and were tested at Helen Smith’s home by an unknown woman who claimed to be an official examiner.

They were later told they had passed the exams with flying colours, but suspicions were aroused when certificates failed to arrive.

Smith, 42, of Sheffield, told magistrates she had arranged the exams in good faith with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).

But Lynne Butler, the deputy head of the UK operations for ABRSM, confirmed the organisation had no record of any exam taking place at Smith’s house on December 15, 2012, and had not sent any examiner to the property.

Smith, who has previously been banned from teaching in schools for two years by the General Teaching Council after claiming sick pay while being on holiday, was convicted yesterday of six counts of fraud by abuse of position and one of fraud by false representation between February 2012 and March this year, in relation to two adult and three teenage pupils.

Mrs Butler told the court ABRSM had sent a cheque for £264.90 earlier in 2012 to Smith for cancelled examinations which was cashed by the teacher on July 18. The money included a full refund for an exam that had been due to be taken by Andrea Jackson.

She said Smith had told ABRSM the reason for the cancellation was Ms Jackson’s father had died —something later revealed not to be true.

Miss Jackson was told by Smith shortly after the Grade Five exam later in the year that she had passed with a distinction but the ABRSM later told her it had no record of an exam on that day.

Sharon Copley, the mother of one of Smith’s teenage pupils, was told her daughter should attend the test for Grade Five piano at her house by Smith instead of another official exam they had already booked.

She told the court: “She was absolutely devastated. To be told by somebody you trusted that you have passed with a distinction and to then find out the person she looked up to hadn’t told the truth, she felt humiliated and let down. It knocked her for six.”

Smith claimed that an administrative error by the board was possibly to blame for it having no record of the tests nor of sending an examiner to the address on the day in question.

She said she thought the woman was an official examiner and told the court she was sad that pupils she considered friends believed she was to blame.

Smith, who represented herself during the trial, said: “I feel very hurt and betrayed and let down by the board’s inaccuracies or whatever has happened. I did my job as a music teacher to make sure they took their exams.”

But passing verdict at Sheffield Magistrates Court yesterday, District Judge Sheila Driver said: “You attempted to involve yourself in a game of smoke and mirrors, but your evidence was inconsistent, not credible, and frankly nonsense.

“I am satisfied that all victims suffered a financial loss due to a false representation by you and I therefore find you guilty of all charges.”

Smith will be sentenced next month.