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Bullies hound out pound;2m donor

Tycoon withdraws pledge for new city academy after threats of violence, reports Joe Clancy

A PROPERTY tycoon has withdrawn his offer to sponsor a flagship city academy following threats of violence to him and his family.

Millionaire businessman Cyril Dennis had pledged to put pound;2 million into a new academy in Liverpool, which was to replace two crumbling comprehensives.

But he pulled out after he and his children received threats in abusive letters sent to their homes. The school cannot now go ahead unless a new sponsor is found.

City council leaders have blamed "mob rule" for "threatening to destroy the hopes of thousands of Liverpool schoolchildren".

Parents and teachers had launched a vigorous campaign against the academy and last week one parents' group threatened to picket Mr Dennis's home in Epsom, Surrey.

Mr Dennis announced his withdrawal from the scheme in a letter to the Prime Minister's office and to Liverpool City Council.

He wrote: "My children, who have young families of their own, have received threatening and abusive letters to their home addresses. I cannot put my family at risk."

His spokesman said he was "deeply distressed" by the threats. "It has been a nasty, vicious campaign and he has no choice but to withdraw."

The North Liverpool City Academy was due to open in September 2004, to replace the Anfield and Breckfield schools.

The National Union of Teachers had led a campaign against the school closures. But Ruth Knox, general secretary of Liverpool NUT, said: "We would be very unhappy if any of this has come across as a personal attack on Mr Dennis.

"City academies are an untried experiment which has been thoroughly rejected by the local community."

City council leader Mike Storey said: "It doesn't help the reputation of the city very much when mob rule drives out people wanting to invest in Liverpool.

"The despicable actions of a handful of bully boys mean it will be the children who lose out."

Mr Dennis, awarded the MBE in the New Year Honours list, made millions buying and selling commercial properties in the last recession. He is a former director of investment advice company Capital amp; Provident and a benefactor of Jewish schools and charities.

The Government is thought to want to set up between 40 and 50 academies by the end of the decade. It has announced a target of 20 by 2005. The Liverpool school was one of 17 already planned.

Briefing, 26-27

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