Michael Gove faces questions over who authorised a statement from his department which Labour says misinformed the public over the status of a police investigation into alleged fraud at a flagship free school.
Labour frontbencher Kevin Brennan is demanding to know why the Department for Education said in October that police had been informed about the case at the Kings Science Academy, in Bradford, and decided to take no further action – when official documents show the department had been told police had not yet carried out a criminal investigation.
The school and the DfE have been mired in controversy since it emerged the department found Kings had submitted fabricated invoices to claim thousands of pounds of public money.
Mr Brennan, Shadow Education Minister, has submitted a series of written parliamentary questions following an exclusive report from the Yorkshire Post which revealed the DfE knew in September its findings against the free school had not been recorded as a crime and that police would need more information to be able to investigate.
Emails between the DfE and Action Fraud – the national fraud reporting centre – on September 5 showed the department was told the matter had been dealt with as an information report and any criminal investigation would rely on the matter being reported as a crime. Seven weeks later, however, when the allegations became public the DfE issued a statement, on October 25, simply saying that police has been informed and decided to take no further action.
A week later it emerged that no police investigation had actually taken place. At this point the Government said this was because Action Fraud had incorrectly recorded the call as being for information meaning the case was not passed on to police as a crime report. Action Fraud were said to have notified the DfE of this mistake and apologised for it on November 1. However the document obtained by the Yorkshire Post shows the DfE already knew the matter was being dealt with as information report when it made its original statement on October 25.
Mr Brennan said: “Now we know that when DfE issued the statement saying police had decided to take no further action, it already knew the matter had only been dealt with as an information report. We know the DfE was told more information was needed and that the DfE was told it would need to be reported as crime. The DfE appears to have done nothing until seven weeks later when the report was leaked. They then put out a statement which misinformed the public about the status of a police investigation into alleged criminality at one of the Government’s flagship free schools.”
Mr Brennan has asked the Education Secretary when he or his ministers were made aware of the email to his department on September 5 from Action Fraud, “which indicated that the department’s reference to Action Fraud regarding Kings Science Academy was being dealt with as an information report rather than for criminal investigation?”
He has also asked what who authorised the statement the DfE made on October 25 that the police had decided to take no further action.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The Department gave Action Fraud all the critical information on its findings of potential fraud in April, and we followed up with a further call in September. It is Action Fraud, not the Department, who decide whether the information given is classified as an information report or a crime report. Action Fraud passed the information to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau who determined that there should be no further action. All of the actions of the Department were confirmed as correct by the police at the time. If the Department had obtained more evidence of fraud after April, it would have reported that to Action Fraud.”
After the matter became public the case was passed on to West Yorkshire Police which is now investigating. It has interviewed three men under caution.