Police have begun a major criminal investigation into a free school which misspent tens thousands of pounds of taxpayers money, it has emerged.
Detectives in West Yorkshire are now starting a “thorough” inquiry into the Kings Science Academy, more than six months after the Department for Education (DfE) found serious problems with the finances of the Bradford secondary.
The free school had spent £59,560 of a grant without any evidence of what is used for, including £10,800 which was “supported by fabricated invoices for rent”, the DfE found.
A further £26,775 was over-claimed as part of otherwise legitimate payments in what government auditors described as “serious failings in financial management”.
A DfE report was finalised in May, but it had been sitting unpublished until ten days ago when a media leak forced the government to release the findings, with potentially damaging consequences for its flagship free schools policy.
When it published the document last month, the DfE said that it had informed police about the case in April after the completion of an interim report. But the police had “decided no further action was necessary”, the DfE said.
But West Yorkshire Police now say they were never actually asked to begin an investigation until last Thursday.
Action Fraud – the Home Office body responsible for co-ordinating reports of fraud – has admitted responsibility for the delay in action saying its “administrative error led to this [case] being categorised as an information report, rather than a crime report”.
West Yorkshire Police does not dispute that the DfE called it about the case on April 25, but a force spokeswoman said it was an “informal approach”, merely confirming that the protocol was to first report the case to Action Fraud.
“We weren’t brought into the process until last week,” she added. “There may have been a call but it was more a ‘for information call’. It wasn’t reported to West Yorkshire Police for investigation until last week.”
Asked why the DfE had not queried the failure to investigate such a serious matter, the department spokesman said: “It is not our place to press on a police investigation.”
He added: “It is not a conspiracy. The department did follow all the correct procedures.”
Action Fraud said it had apologised to the DfE for its error and would be “reviewing our processes in light of this case”.
Kings Science Academy, one of the first free schools, was deemed to require improvement by an Ofsted inspection this summer.
By then – “in late 2012” – a whistleblower had already made allegations about “governance arrangements” at the Bradford free school, the DfE revealed last month.
Further inquires led to the government conducting a “forensic investigation” into the school. It revealed that the school’s former chair of governors was paid £2,400 for chairing three meetings in 2011 and £500 for “travel costs to Scotland” in August in the same year.
It says that the father, wife and sister of a person whose name has been redacted from the published report were recruited as staff.