Fraud police drop Bright Tribe investigation

Fraud police have dropped their investigation into the Bright Tribe academy trust, Schools Week can reveal.

The investigation was launched after a Panorama probe accused the trust, founded by businessman Michael Dwan, of making false claims for hundreds of thousands of pounds for building and maintenance government grants.

They’ve previously said they can’t release such documents because of they are part of a criminal investigation. Now those reports should be in the public domain

However, the City of London police said they found “insufficient evidence” to support a criminal investigation.

Campaigners have said that the dropped investigation now means the government should release documents relating to the case that it has so far refused to because of the police involvement.

Julie Rayson, a campaigner involved in revealing failings relating to the now collapsed trust, said: “I would now like to see all the documents released by Bright Tribe and the Department for Education.

“They’ve previously said they can’t release such documents because of they are part of a criminal investigation. Now those reports should be in the public domain – there’s no excuses now.”

That includes an investigation by the Education and Skills Funding Agency that is currently still to be published.

A DfE spokesperson would only say: “We are aware the City of London Police’s investigation into Bright Tribe Trust has concluded and are unable to comment until all legal matters and due processes are fully complete.”

Most of Panorama’s allegations centred on the Whitehaven Academy, in Cumbria, where Bright Tribe was alleged to have claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds for incomplete works.

One of the allegations involved substantial funding for LED lighting at the school in 2015. However, the work was not completed, with Panorama capturing images of the lights still stored in a shed.

Annual accounts published for Bright Tribe in 2019, while it was under new leadership appointed by the government following the fall-out, stated there was “insufficient evidence in the completed evidence for some of the capital grants and salix loans”.

The accounts claimed that following investigations “works that had been capitalised in previous accounting periods had not been carried out, despite invoices and certificates confirming that works had been completed being provided to the trust”.

It was part of a series of financial issues that have also been raised with the ESFA relating to material irregularity, impropriety or funding non-compliance.

There was also a “lack of clarity” over how the trust spent its £1 million northern hub funding from the government and “insufficient evidence” to support the rationale behind settlement agreements for departing staff.

The trust was reported to Cumbria police back in 2017 following allegations of financial mismanagement at Whitehaven Academy.

The case was referred to the fraud police in October last year.

But a spokesperson for the City of London police said an initial investigation found there was “insufficient evidence to support a criminal investigation”.

The initial investigation was to ascertain if there were viable lines of enquiry in support a criminal investigation. But they said the case has now concluded.

A spokesperson for Bright Tribe, which is being wound up, would only say they were aware of the investigation into the trust’s previous leadership, adding: “This is a matter for the police.”

Rayson added the “good thing” to come out of the investigation was that the trust has been disbanded and “highlighted poor financial practices” leading to academy funding guidelines being changed to “bring in closer scrutiny of related-party transactions”.

A representative for Dwan did not respond to a request for comment.