Cleaner at Portsmouth school caught on camera after stealing £5,000 from pupils

Elizabeth Bruce caught on camera at St John's College in Portsmouth in a police sting
Elizabeth Bruce caught on camera at St John's College in Portsmouth in a police sting
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  • Police sting caught out cleaner who was stealing cash
  • Pupils left fearing their classmates were taking their money
  • Private school’s international reputation damaged due to theft
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A CLEANER who stole about £5,000 from pupils at a private boarding school was caught out in a police sting.

Elizabeth Bruce stole cash, Chinese currency, purses, clothes shop vouchers and a Pandora bracelet in a string of thefts at St John’s College in Grove Road South, Southsea.

Cleaner Elizabeth Bruce outside Portsmouth Magistrates' Court Picture: Ben Fishwick

Cleaner Elizabeth Bruce outside Portsmouth Magistrates' Court Picture: Ben Fishwick

Lasting around 18 months, her spree was finally ended after police caught her on covert camera rifling through a planted purse.

Bruce, 52, of Warwick Crescent, Southsea, admitted 15 thefts and confessed to another 19 that were taken into consideration in court.

Simon Merriam, school bursar, said in a statement read in court: ‘This set of incidents has had a huge impact on the boarding community at St John’s. It led to boarders not trusting each other.’

He added: ‘We’re 25 boarders down as things stand and whilst this is not all directly related to the thefts we know they have contributed. Our reputation overseas has very much been damaged.’

This set of incidents has had a huge impact on the boarding community at St John’s

Simon Merriam, school bursar

When police searched Bruce’s home they found a Pandora bracelet and a purse belonging to young pupils.

One girl was a victim of Bruce’s actions four times and another girl, 14, was left upset and struggled to trust those she boarded with after a purse her family gave her as a Christmas present was stolen by Bruce. In a statement she said: ‘(Bruce) going through my personal belongings and taking them made me feel angry and upset.’

Overseas boarders pay £26,295 a year at St John’s. About 600 pupils study between Reception and Year 13.

Robert Reid, prosecuting, said: ‘During a period of time between July 2014 and March 2016 the school was experiencing a problem in relation to thefts of property with a result that the police in February set up a covert camera to try and establish who was responsible.

‘They left a purse containing £60, covered by a covert camera, and they saw this defendant come across the purse and go into it wearing gloves and she was arrested on suspicion of theft.’

Trusted Bruce, who worked for 20 years at the school which was established in 1908, was handed a eight-month prison sentence suspended for 15 months at Portsmouth Crown Court.

Recorder John Williams ordered her to pay £842 compensation and complete 30 days of rehabilitation along with 120 hours of unpaid work. Sentencing, the judge said: ‘The series of offences would have no doubt continued.’

James Caldwell, for Bruce, said she was willing to do unpaid work. Bruce said ‘thank you’ as she was sentenced.

The headteacher of St John’s College has said the thefts were taken extremely seriously.

In a statement issued after Elizabeth Bruce was sentenced, Tim Bayley said the incident was ‘extremely rare’.

He said: ‘We would like to reassure pupils and parents that security in boarding houses has been reviewed and all affected pupils have had their items returned where possible, or been reimbursed.

‘We would also like to thank the police for their assistance in catching the offender and bringing them to justice.’