Fraud bureau dragged in to row over free school claims

David Ward MP
David Ward MP
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A TOP fraud bureau has been drawn into the scandal over the failure to ensure that allegations against a free school were investigated by police until after the matter was leaked.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal that a fraud bureau discovered a report made against the Kings Science Academy had been wrongly recorded as being for information only but then did nothing to ensure the matter was investigated.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, run by City of London Police, did not pass the case to West Yorkshire Police after discovering, in June last year, that the school should have been investigated over allegations of false accounting.

Instead the case remain filed away until the allegations that the Bradford school had submitted fabricated invoices to claim public money were leaked into the public domain more than three months later.

Bradford MP David Ward last night branded the revelations as astonishing and vowed to demand answers from the Home Secretary.

The way in which the authorities handled this case has been a source of controversy since the scandal broke. A Department for Education (DfE) investigation resulted in allegations that the school had submitted fabricated invoices to the DfE. This was reported by the DfE to Action Fraud, a call centre which then passes cases to the NFIB.

In April last year when the call was made Action Fraud wrongly classified the Kings case as being for information only meaning it was not looked at for criminal investigation until the scandal broke in October.

The DfE has faced questions over its handling of the matter after The Yorkshire Post revealed that it had been told in September that the case was only being dealt with as information and failed to rectify this.

Now the NFIB’s handling of the case has also been called into the question. An official review into the way alleged fraud calls are reported was launched because of the problems with the Kings Science Academy case.

The review, seen by The Yorkshire Post, reveals that during the NFIB’s own checking processes it realised that the Kings case had been wrongly recorded as being for information only. The Kings report had apparently been picked out as part of a random sample - but even then was not corrected.

Mr Ward, the Liberal Democract MP for Bradford East said: “The revelations that the NFIB knew that the Kings Science Academy crime report was inaccurately logged in June 2013 and took no action to rectify this is astonishing. How can a police body undertake an audit for mistakes but take no remedial action to ensure that these mistakes were rectified. “

Mr Ward said that the latest findings did not “exonerate” the DfE. He added: “They should have pressed the matter knowing there were allegations that a crime had been committed and made sure that it was investigated. They did not do this as the response that they got from Action Fraud suited their own ends.

“If it were not for this leaking out no police action would have occurred and allegations of a crime would have been forgotten. How many more alleged crimes would have gone unreported? This is indefensible and I will be writing to the Home Secretary urging immediate action to make sure that all identified cases are investigated promptly.”

Mr Ward has previously accused the DfE of attempting to cover up the allegations against the free school for political reasons - a claim the department denies.

A City of London Police spokesman said: “It is accepted that Action Fraud incorrectly recorded the Kings Science Academy report as an information report rather than as a crime. This was due to a human error on the part of one person. The NFIB audit and review process did assess this report and identify the mistaken classification and amend the report to a crime report, but only for a crime recording and audit return perspective.

“Since April 2014 Action Fraud has been under the control of the City of London police, the national lead force for fraud, and audit processes have been made more robust and the volume of reports audited substantially increased.”

The National Fraud Authority’s review of audit and call monitoring says that there was no clear process for correcting reports.

It has recommended that in future where the NFIB identifies potential crimes that have been wrongly logged as being for information only it should inform Action Fraud of the mistake and pass them on to the relevant police force for investigation.

Had this happened with the Kings case a police investigation would have been launched in June last year. Instead West Yorkshire Police were given the case at the end of October and only after the matter was leaked. Since then the school’s principal Sajid Raza has been arrested and released on bail.

A Dfe spokeswoman said: “We acted as soon as it received allegations of wrongdoing at Kings Science Academy. We formally investigated and referred the case to Action Fraud. This resulted in a police investigation which is ongoing.

Separately we have recovered the appropriate funds.

“All free schools are held to rigorous account. The vast majority are performing well with three-quarters rated good or outstanding. But where there is failure we will not hesitate to intervene.”

Why allegations of fraud at Bradford free school slipped through the net