Sidney thefts finally put to bed

Tom Muir 8 October 2007

Sidney Sussex students were left reeling when it emerged that one of their college bedders only just missed out on jail after stealing from their rooms.

Margaret Scruby was given a four-month suspended prison sentence for theft when she appeared before Cambridge magistrates on Monday.

Keen-witted undergraduates had suspected the 58-year-old grandmother was up to no good when they noticed cash going missing in February – so decided to take her to the cleaners.

They set up a webcam trap and caught the thief in the act. Scruby initially denied the allegations, but after seeing the video evidence, she said: “I must have done it. It’s there to see.”

The light-fingered cleaner’s haul included small change and pound coins which she would regularly pilfer – and more than £100 which she lifted from a purse in a student’s bedside cabinet.

But Sidney staff must have kept it quiet because the first most students heard of the drama was when Scruby was handed her punishment.

She has also been told to pay back the £146.90 she stole from the students whose rooms she was in charge of cleaning.

During the prosecution, it turned out that Scruby is a former jailbird. She spent three years behind bars in 2000 for stealing almost £90,000 from her employers, Sir John and Lady Walley.

While working as a cleaner at their Cottenham home, Scruby forged cheques to give herself tidy bonuses, sometimes up to £3,000.

And the list does not end there: a previous employer had Scruby prosecuted in 1991, once again for stealing.

Magistrates heard that before the thefts, Scruby had just returned to work after the death of her husband, Eric, who was killed by a drink-driver. But no mitigation was submitted for the ex-bedder, who admitted five charges of theft with no coherent explanation.

Magistrate Rosie Spencer said: “A bedder in students’ rooms has a very special job and it is right that the students should expect such people are trustworthy and that it is safe to leave belongings and money around. This was a serious breach of trust.”

If Scruby reoffends in the next 18 months, she will go to jail – and she must be supervised by probation officers in the meantime.

Stunned Sidney students said they were impressed by their quick-thinking college mates who caught her.

Second-year economist Sarah Robbins, a friend of a student Scruby stole from, said: “I had no idea what had happened. Most people were just shocked that it could actually happen, especially when you think how much freedom bedders get in your rooms while people are out.”

When asked if security checks on staff were tight enough, a Sidney Sussex spokesman would only say: “The College requires all new staff to sign a form declaring any previous convictions. Mrs Scruby failed to do so.”

But Robbins believes the college did the best it could and said: “”I think it was handled really well. My friend was given her money back and Scruby was fired, so they did the best they could.

“You get used to thinking of bedders as cute old ladies. That one of them would steal from students is completely unbelievable.”

Tom Muir