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Partial victory for Brent Council in £2.7m 'unlawful payments' case

BRENT Council won a partial victory in its attempt to recoup millions in alleged unlawful payments yesterday after a judge ruled that former school staff and governors were liable.

Whistle-blower Hank Roberts, who uncovered the scandal at Copland Community School in 2009 that ultimately saw former head teacher Alan Davies convicted and stripped of his knighthood, told the Star he was delighted with the result.

He said the case revealed how the academy system was “open to this abuse by its very nature” and called for the return of academies to local authority control.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Zacaroli said that the overpayments “consisted of payments over and above the staff members’ basic salaries, which were purportedly justified as bonus payments or payments for additional responsibilities.”

He added that the “sum of all the overpayments is £2,707,391, of which Mr Davies received approximately £950,000.”

Brent brought the civil claim against six people who were arrested in 2011 on charges of conspiracy to defraud, which were eventually dropped. Mr Davies pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting and was given a 12-month suspended sentence.

The action was brought against Mr Davies, deputy head Richard Evans, accountant Columbus Udokoro, HR manager Michelle McKenzie and governors Indravadan Patel and Martin Day.

Brent alleged the six defendants had engaged in an unlawful conspiracy to damage the council, which the judge rejected.

But the council also alleged certain of the defendants had breached their fiduciary duty or knowingly received money paid in breach of fiduciary duty.

Mr Justice Zacaroli found that Mr Davies was liable for his breach of fiduciary duty, that Mr Evans, Mr Udoroko and Ms McKenzie were liable to Brent for the “knowing receipt of funds paid in breach of fiduciary duty” after July 10 2008 and that Mr Patel and Mr Day were liable for breaches of fiduciary duty.

Outside court, National Education Union member Mr Roberts said: “The union must now demand that far stronger accounting procedures and financial oversight of schools — especially academy schools, where there have been numerous cases of corruption in recent years — are adequately policed.

“Indeed, I would say that the whole academy system is so open to this abuse by its very nature that this system should be closed down and all schools should be returned to local authority control.”

Brent Council has been approached for comment.


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