A nursery owner has been sentenced to ten months in prison (suspended) for fraudulently claiming over £37,000 of Free Entitlement, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Sarah Tolner, amended the records of 58 children attending her privately-run North London Montessori and Country Cows Montessori Nursery between 2007 and 2012, to make the false claims. She changed dates of birth for non-qualifying children, lied about the number of hours being claimed and even forged parents’ signatures. In one case, a claim was made for a child who had never attended the nursery.

Barnet Council’s corporate anti-fraud team launched an investigation in 2011 when the council’s children’s service identified errors in one form submitted, with all five children sharing the same year of birth.

Tolner was sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court last week to ten months in prison. This was suspended for 18 months, however she was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to 15 counts of fraud by false representation and having a further two offences taken into consideration. The nursery owner was ordered to repay the £37,191 of funding that was claimed fraudulently as well as £18,227 in costs.

Leader of the council Councillor Richard Cornelius said: “This was a brazen attempt to illegally pocket a great deal of taxpayers’ money.

“Our corporate anti-fraud team and children’s service did an excellent job in initially spotting something was wrong and then successfully investigating the full extent of this fraud.

“I am also glad to see that the vast majority of the money claimed illegally, and the council’s costs, have already been repaid.”

The Country Cows nursery has been under new ownership since 2011, the North London Montessori was closed.

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