Primary school teacher, 45, ‘hacked her colleagues’ emails to snoop on them, court hears

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Donna-Maria Thomas, arriving at Portsmouth Crown Court today, is accused of trying to sneak into password-protected email accounts of staff more than 100 times after getting upset that she was asked to cancel a holiday

Donna-Maria Thomas, arriving at Portsmouth Crown Court today, is accused of trying to sneak into password-protected email accounts of staff more than 100 times after getting upset that she was asked to cancel a holiday

A disgruntled primary school teacher snooped on her colleagues by hacking their emails as part of a feud with the headmistress for cancelling her holiday, a court heard today.

Donna-Maria Thomas is accused of trying to sneak into password-protected email accounts of staff more than 100 times after getting upset that she was asked to cancel a holiday.

The 45-year-old illegally accessed computers at Aldingbourne Primary School, Chichester, West Sussex, and scoured accounts containing ‘highly confidential’ material while looking for information ‘she could use’, it is alleged.

Relationships at the school ‘soured’ when Thomas discovered a holiday she had already booked flights for was authorised by ‘mistake’ and she was forced to cancel.

Her row with headteacher Liz Webster then escalated and Thomas began making a string of complaints to school governors, Portsmouth Crown Court heard today.

She then allegedly began logging into the private school accounts of at least five staff members ‘without authorisation’, scouring emails for anything ‘she could use’.

Opening the case, prosecutor Paul Fairley said: ‘This is a case of an allegation of a teacher, an experienced and it seems a very good teacher, who entered into some sort of feud with the headteacher – what appears to be a misunderstanding.

The 45-year-old illegally accessed computers at Aldingbourne Primary School, Chichester, (pictured) West Sussex, and scoured accounts containing 'highly confidential' material while looking for information 'she could use', it is alleged

The 45-year-old illegally accessed computers at Aldingbourne Primary School, Chichester, (pictured) West Sussex, and scoured accounts containing ‘highly confidential’ material while looking for information ‘she could use’, it is alleged

‘Holiday had been booked by Ms Thomas, flights had been booked and Ms Webster realised a mistake had been made and as a result, she couldn’t authorise the holiday.

‘That caused some, not only inconvenience, but some financial loss.

‘Ms Thomas took to making complaints about Ms Webster of various types to the chair of school governors.

‘As a result of that happening, the relationship between Ms Thomas and the rest of the staff was very much soured and it appears, from that point, or some point in 2018, Ms Thomas appears to begin going into other people’s email accounts, seeing what, if anything, was being written about her, whether there was anything which perhaps she could use.’

Mr Fairley added: ‘What is alleged against Ms Thomas is actually accessing email accounts.

‘They were highly confidential, not shared on a group resource but maintained within the individual email accounts of staff.

‘Ms Thomas, on no less than 96 occasions, between December 31 2018 and January 19 2019 – a period of about three weeks – she had accessed the emails of about five or six different members of staff.

Relationships at the school 'soured' when Thomas discovered a holiday she had already booked flights for was authorised by 'mistake' and she was forced to cancel. Her row with headteacher Liz Webster (pictured) then escalated and Thomas began making a string of complaints to school governors, Portsmouth Crown Court heard today

Relationships at the school ‘soured’ when Thomas discovered a holiday she had already booked flights for was authorised by ‘mistake’ and she was forced to cancel. Her row with headteacher Liz Webster (pictured) then escalated and Thomas began making a string of complaints to school governors, Portsmouth Crown Court heard today

‘We say 110 [because there were] occasions where the login failed.

‘She had no possible authorisation or good reason to access and go into their accounts simply to find out what, if anything, was being written about her.’

Staff at the school often used the same passwords so they could all access teaching resources which were contained on a shared server.

They also had their own private email accounts, the court was told.

Mr Fairley said: ‘The teacher would come in and access from a shared resources area anything for that lesson.

‘There seems to be, at least a degree of password sharing in relation to that and the reason for that maybe perfectly obvious such as if a teacher goes off sick.’

Thomas got ‘really upset’ after she was forced to scrap her annual summer plans to fly to Ibiza and was told to stay at the school for teacher training, the court heard.

Year 4 teacher Natasha Maysey said she became more ‘cautious’ of the defendant soon after the holiday was cancelled despite the pair’s ‘pleasant’ relationship.

Ms Maysey said: ‘There were two inset days at the end of the academic year.

‘Donna booked a flight to Ibiza, because she goes to Ibiza every summer, during these inset days.

‘Then Liz said she wasn’t allowed to go, she had to do work.

‘I was just aware that Donna was really upset.’

Ms Maysey added that their friendship broke down after Thomas ‘whistleblew’ to authorities regarding an unspecified issue involving SATS exams, sparking an investigation.

She added: ‘She whistleblew about Sats tests. She told two people [she had whistleblown]. I couldn’t forgive her for what she did.

‘I parted ways. I saw the impact that had on everyone at school and knowing she caused that and seeing members of staff in pieces – that was the end of our friendship.

‘Donna removed herself from the staffroom at lunch time and would take a friend’s dog for a walk. Everyone would go separately for lunch.

‘The atmosphere only really stuck around for a week or two.’

Staff governor Ms Maysey said she suspected someone might be accessing her private school account after noticing an email was forwarded on to someone without her knowledge.

She denied having ever given her login details or password to her personal email account to colleagues.

It had contained details of school governors’ meetings which had taken place in private, confidential emails from parents about children in her class and meetings she had with council officials.

She said: ‘I still, til this day, don’t know if I sent it or not.

‘I find it very uncharacteristic of me, I have never sent a wrong email in my life.’

Thomas, of Bosham, near Chichester, West Sussex, denies securing unauthorised access to computer material between December 31, 2018 and January 19, 2019.

The trial continues.

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