Sponsor has pound;1m unpaid fine

Businessman appointed lead sponsor of a new academy in the Wirral

David Marley

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A businessman who failed to pay a fine of more than pound;1 million has been appointed as the lead sponsor of a new academy in the Wirral, raising further concerns over England's academies programme.

David Hughes, who has been named as the main backer of Birkenhead Boys' Academy in the Wirral, was involved in a price-fixing scandal when he ran the Allsports chain of sport shops.

Mr Hughes's company was fined pound;1.35 million in 2003 by the Office of Fair Trading for participating in a cartel that agreed to sell replica football shirts at set prices.

Following an appeal by the company, the fine was increased to pound;1.42 million because of Mr Hughes's failure to co-operate with the original investigation.

Allsports did not pay the fine and two years later the company fell into administration. Mr Hughes, a multimillionaire, also ran a property business, which went into administration this year. The entrepreneur was named as the lead sponsor for one of two new academies planned for Birkenhead last month.

But his background has raised concerns over whether he is an appropriate person to back a school. It has also led to calls for the process of choosing sponsors to be overhauled.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "There does not seem to be any robust set of criteria which defines who may or may not be a sponsor. Someone who has an unpaid fine of more than pound;1 million does not seem to be the kind of role model that we want."

But Mr Hughes, who grew up on a council estate near the site of the proposed academy, said his business success could be an inspiration to pupils. "I'm a classic example of a boy who did well," he said. "Now that I'm 60, I want to put something back.

"I have extraordinary qualities to bring to the process that I'm prepared to give on a voluntary basis: no reward, no knighthood, just to help the kids in Birkenhead. The key line is that your life script is not written at birth."

Mr Hughes insisted that the OFT case had been a miscarriage of justice. The fine had not been paid because appeals were on-going, he said.

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David Marley

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