Labour demands to hear scandal school call

LABOUR MPs are demanding the Government release a recording of the critical phone call between Whitehall officials which led to a fraud investigation into a flagship free school being shelved for almost six months.

Michael Gove.
Michael Gove.

The pressure intensified on Ministers to publish all their records surrounding Kings Science Academy, in Bradford, which the Department for Education (DfE) found had submitted fabricated invoices to claim public money.

The Home Office has rejected calls from a Bradford MP for an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the case, blaming an “administrative error” for the fact that no criminal report was filed for months after the DfE reported the school to its fraud unit with a phone call in April.

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But in a Westminster debate yesterday, Shadow Education Minister Kevin Brennan claimed the public “deserve to know exactly what was said when the DfE reported the matter” and added: “It is a murky business, and it would be better if the Government published the records of all their dealings in relation to this now.”

Kings Science Academy is now facing a police investigation into alleged fraud. Education Secretary Michael Gove admitted last week that Kings officials have “questions to answer”, but defended people who set up free schools as “idealists”.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Mr Brennan accused Mr Gove of acting “like Dr Frankenstein” over his flagship policy, and said: “He is in love with his own creation and cannot see the dangers – even when the evidence is staring him right in the face.”

The Labour front-bencher accused the DfE of sitting on its own highly critical report into Kings for more than five months, and demanded the release of a recording of the telephone phone call made to the Home Office Action Fraud unit in April. The Home Office says a mistake in the way the call was recorded led to the case being passed on to police for “information” only – meaning no criminal investigation took place.

This administrative error only came to light after the DfE’s audit report into the school was leaked last month. A redacted version of the internal report was released by the DfE after it was leaked. West Yorkshire Police then launched an inquiry and have interviewed three people under caution. Mr Brennan said there were still questions to answer about why the inquiry was initially shelved.

“The Minister should be able to obtain from the Home Office a recording of the telephone call to Action Fraud in April to report the crime,” the Labour MP said. “On October 25, the department said the matter had been reported to the police who decided no further action was necessary. That seems odd to me. After all invoices had been fabricated: Why did that not result in proper criminal action?”

In a written answer to Bradford MPs, Education Minister Edward Timpson insisted his department had supplied the Home Office unit with “all the critical information” by telephone, and had “followed all correct procedures” in reporting the incident. Asked why a copy of the full report containing detailed allegations of fraud was not immediately passed to the police, he said: “Action Fraud did not request a copy of the report.”

Bradford East MP David Ward branded the response “pathetic”. The Home Office yesterday rejected written demands from Bradford West MP George Galloway for an inquiry into why police did not investigate immediately.

Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “I do not believe an independent inquiry is necessary. Action Fraud has apologised to the DfE for this error and has taken steps to improve staff awareness and training.”