Chapter 4

The ‘nun on the run’

Such evil deeds could religion prompt.

Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus, 96–55 BC)

This case caught the public eye in the UK and ended up as a TV docudrama with Pauline Quirke playing the part of Colleen McCabe, the so-called ‘nun on the run’. Aside from its bizarre nature, with elements more attuned at times to a magician’s show than a true story of greed and fraud where you’d least expect it, this fraud also emphasised the difficulties auditors can have taking the right decisions on the ground and that even when some prime evidence has been destroyed, all is not lost.

To this day, no one is sure just how much Colleen McCabe got away with through her frauds before she was caught. Estimates of what was discovered range from £250,000 to £500,000, but there was no viable way of reconstructing the entire history of her fraudulent activities, which were carried out over a five-year period between 1993 and 1999.


Colleen McCabe had spent fifteen years as a nun before taking up a teaching career. At the relatively young age of 35, she became deputy head teacher at St John Rigby College, a Catholic secondary school in West Wickham, in the Greater London borough of Bromley. Six years later, McCabe became head teacher.

Once McCabe was in charge, the school had become an unhappy place. There had been an extremely high rate of employment tribunal actions taken against the school by former teaching staff, many of whom McCabe had sacked or persuaded ...

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