The former principal of a remote West Australian school has denied setting fire to it to cover his tracks after hundreds of frauds and thefts, telling emergency services to "let it burn".

John Michael McHale, 50, has pleaded guilty to 266 charges of theft and fraud, including using the Meekatharra School of the Air's credit card to buy groceries.

But he is fighting allegations he burned down the school - and its replacement in Geraldton - to destroy financial records that would have revealed his dishonesty.

McHale, who was suspended from his job more than three years after the frauds began in early 2006, also rejected accusations he stole school equipment after several items were found at his home.

He told the District Court in Perth on Tuesday he had nothing to do with two blazes at the Meekatharra school and a third fire at the Geraldton campus.

While the first fire was discovered on a school day while he was present, the second occurred on a Sunday night when McHale claimed to be at home.

He said he only learnt of the emergency when a man - whose identity he could not recall - phoned him.

McHale said he arrived at the school about 20 minutes later to find firefighters on the scene.

But the prosecution claims he was already there. It says he had smashed some windows with rocks and left a box of tissues on a chair inside one of the rooms as a second ignition point, but was interrupted by the firefighters.

The court was told he approached them and blamed the damage on children.

McHale has denied that, saying he did not return to the school after asbestos was found during the first fire.

"I didn't set any fire anywhere at any time," he said.

McHale was also accused of refusing access to a firefighter, telling him: "It's the government's. Let it burn".

The trial continues.

 

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