Primary school teacher on trial in Portsmouth accused of snooping on colleagues' emails over holiday row

A PRIMARY school teacher started snooping on her colleagues’ emails after a row over cancelled holiday, a court has heard.

Monday, 21st September 2020, 1:08 pm
Updated Monday, 21st September 2020, 2:50 pm

Claims have been made Donna-Maria Thomas was acting as a whistleblower amid allegations of ‘inconsistencies’ in Key Stage One testing.

Thomas, 45, is accused of illegally accessing up to six of her colleagues’ email accounts to see if they were talking about her.

At the time of the alleged offences she was a teacher at Aldingbourne Primary School near Chichester, West Sussex.

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Donna-Maria Thomas arrives at Portsmouth Crown Court today accused of accessing computers on 110 occasions at Aldingbourne Primary School in Westergate, Chichester, to access confidential information held by the headteacher Liz Webster. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

She appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court for trial today after denying securing unauthorised access to computer material.

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Prosecutor Paul Fairley said ‘hacking is probably a step too far’ to describe the accusations, dated between December, 2018 and January, 2019.

Instead he said Thomas, from Bosham, had been ‘going into other people’s emails seeing if there was anything being written about her, seeing if there was perhaps anything she could use’.

He told socially-distanced jurors the ‘feud’ between Thomas and head teacher Liz Webster began over a ‘misunderstanding’.

He said: ‘Holiday had been booked by Thomas. Flights had been booked and Ms Webster realised a mistake had been made, [she] felt she could not authorise the holiday.

‘From that falling out with Ms Webster it appears the relationship very much soured.

‘[Ms Thomas] complained about Ms Webster on various occasions to the chair of the school governors.

‘There were allegations made that might be termed whistleblowing in terms of possible inconsistencies of the ways that the Key Stage One testing process was being administered.’

The situation deteriorated to such a degree Thomas was communicating with people only by email and text message at one point, the court heard.

Defence barrister Daniel Darnbrough questioned school-contracted IT technician Simon Williams over whether password security at the school was ‘poor’.

Fellow Aldingbourne teacher Natasha Maysey answered questions on whether there was a ‘culture’ of password sharing among teachers.

Mr Darnbrough asked her: ‘Somebody asked for a password in relation to schoolwork that was then given over?’

She said this was the case.

(Proceeding)

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