King Science Academy founder Sajid Raza jailed with two others
The founder of a flagship free school has been jailed for five years for defrauding the Department for Education of thousands of pounds from government grants.
Sajid Hussain Raza, 43, was jailed at Leeds Crown Court with former academy staff members Daud Khan and Shabana Hussain, who were sentenced to 14 months and six months respectively.
The trio were convicted in August of making payments into their own bank accounts from grants given to help set up the Kings Science Academy in Bradford in 2011.
The fraudulent activity, which totalled £69,000, continued for three years, between November 2010 and December 2013.
In March 2012, the academy was praised by then prime minister David Cameron during a high-profile visit.
Jailing the three defendants, Judge Christopher Batty said: "The three of you were convicted by the jury of a number of counts relating to your dishonest dealings with public money during the periods when you were setting up the Kings Science Academy and, in your case Sajid Raza and Daud Khan, also in the first 15 months of its operation."
Judge Batty said free schools were part of the Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto to allow flexibility and specialism within education and to allow children to be taught in ways not catered for in the current education system.
He said: "They are called free schools because of the way they were set up, entrusted with funds as a trust, a non-profit making organisation.
They were set up to educate children. They were not set up to be a vehicle for making money by those who ran them."
Raza made the application for the 500-place secondary school to open in September 2011.
The proposal was approved and grants were given by the Department for Education to cover the costs incurred during the setting up of the school.
The court heard that Raza and his sister Hussain, a teacher at the school, made a series of payments into their own personal bank accounts from these grants.
Khan, the financial director, did not receive any payments but the court heard the fraud could not have taken place without his participation.
Raza and Khan also submitted inflated or fabricated invoices for rent, fees for heads of department and recruitment services.
The trial heard that Raza, the founder and principal of the school, used some of the money to make mortgage repayments on rental properties he owned to alleviate his own financial problems.
He had 10 county court judgments against him by August 2013 and was making a £10,000-a-year loss on his rental properties.
Benjamin Hargreaves, defending Raza, said his client's motivation was "entirely genuine" and Judge Batty said he believed the defendant did not set up the academy with the intention of fraud.
But he told him: "This school may well have been the thing you always wanted to pursue but you also wanted money. Making money was important to you because of the school and because of the debt around your neck."
He added: "In the end, it was this exposure to debt that probably drove the offending in relation to the Kings Science Academy frauds."