A light-fingered bedder at Sidney Sussex College was caught by students when a webcam recorded her stealing money from a student room.

Cleaner Margaret Scruby, 58, was sentenced on Monday to four months in prison, suspended for 18 months, after she pleaded guilty to five charges of theft from student’s rooms, including on some occasions, small amounts of change.
The worst hit student had £140 stolen, but in total Scruby was reported to have taken £146.90, which she has now been ordered to repay to the students involved.

Money was taken from purses and desks in the college’s Sussex House accommodation. The presiding magistrate, Rosie Spencer, described Scruby’s actions as “a serious breach of trust”.

The case has brought to light Scruby’s long history of theft and fraud. In 1991, she was convicted of stealing from her employer, and in 2000 she was jailed for three years after defrauding Sir John and Lady Walley of nearly £90,000.

She began working as a cleaner for the nonagenarian couple in 1994 and forged cheques in their names for two years before she was turned in by a suspicious cashier. Scruby pleaded guilty to 25 charges of forgery and obtaining money by deception.
In the Sidney Sussex case, the bedder had initially denied involvement with the thefts, which occurred in February of this year, but reportedly confessed when faced with the overwhelming evidence of the webcam footage.

Scruby’s lawyer Jeremy Kendall, mitigating, said that while Scruby couldn’t explain why she stole the money, the crimes had come shortly after she was widowed. Her husband, Eric, was killed by a drink-driver.

The university has a long history of putting webcams to use, though perhaps for more trivial reasons.

The first webcam ever was created by students at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory in 1991. Installed in the Trojan Room, it was pointed at the coffee pot and updated every second, so that students could check if there was refreshment available without leaving their seats. The webcam was eventually taken out of service in 2001, and the coffee machine was sold at auction to German newspaper Der Spiegel for £3,350.

Tom Parry-Jones