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St Aldhelm's Academy conned out of £1m by email scam

An academy has been swindled out of more than £1m after it fell for an online scam.

St Aldhelm’s Academy in Poole, Dorset, which became one of the first schools to become an academy under Michael Gove, was conned out of £1.1m when staff were duped by an email fraud last year.

The TES understands that the academy suffered a so-called "mandate fraud". The school was undergoing a large rebuilding project and a gang of fraudsters posed as the school's building contractors, in this case, Kier.

The criminals contacted the school stating Kier had changed its bank details and asked the school to alter its bank transfer mandate. The school did so and the money was transferred into a fake account. 

A number of public and private bodies have fallen foul of the similar scams in the past 12 months. 

It is understood that the money came from a government loan to help with rebuilding work at the school. Police were called in to investigate the matter after staff realised they had been conned.

In a statement, the St Aldhelm’s principal, Cheryl Heron, confirmed that the academy had been ripped off, but said it had not affected the running of the school.

“St Aldhelm’s was subject to an external fraud in July last year,” Ms Heron said. “The academy acted swiftly, referred the matter immediately to the police and the case is still being investigated.

“The fraud has not impacted on the day to day running of the academy or our recent building work which was completed on schedule. It would be inappropriate to comment further while police investigations are ongoing.”

In a statement, the Department for Education said: “St Aldhelm's has been the victim of a sophisticated serious fraud by a third party. The matter was immediately referred to the police and Action Fraud by the academy trust and to the EFA. The matter continues to be investigated by the police.”

Meanwhile, in what a spokesman for the DfE said was a separate development, it was also revealed yesterday that the school’s board, the St Aldhelm’s Academy Trust, has been given a financial notice to improve due to the academy's "weak financial position". 

A letter to the board states that the trust could see its funding agreement terminated, potentially resulting in the school being closed, if it does not comply with the terms set out in the original agreement. 
The letter also demands the trust passes a "special resolution" to allow the academy's sponsors, the Diocese of Salisbury and Bournemouth University, to step down. It is expected that the DfE will appoint new sponsors to oversee the running of the school. 

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