Academy head used school funds for luxury flat refurbishment and sex games
The head of a group of academies faces a police investigation after spending £45,000 on a luxury refurbishment of a flat on a school site and using company credit cards to buy hi-tech gadgets, DVDs and sex games.
By Martin Beckford
6:00PM BST 27 Apr 2012
Richard Gilliland employed his wife, son and daughter at the Priory Federation of Academies Trust and paid for them to go on training courses and fact-finding trips to Bali.
His state schools in Lincolnshire also owned a study centre in France, where staff and their families would visit and where he spent £315 on a Christmas Day lunch using his work credit card.
Meanwhile his finance director, who was not a qualified accountant, spent £652 of school funds on renting a satellite phone while sailing around the Caribbean.
The News of the World was planning an exposé of some of the arrangements but was closed down before they were published, and they have now emerged in a report by the Department for Education’s Internal Audit Investigation Team after concerns were raised locally.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Department’s investigation into the Priory Federation revealed serious failings of key individuals in relation to financial management. The Trust has accepted responsibility and the CEO has now left. The Department has also referred this matter to the police.”
Terry Coffey, chairman of the Priory’s trust, said in a letter to families and staff: “I apologised to parents and colleagues in a previous letter and I would like to extend that apology here. The work undertaken by the students and staff is genuinely impressive at every level; I fear you have been let down.”
He added that “mistakes and errors of judgement have been made in the past by two senior individuals who, before they left our employment, failed to comply fully with our internal systems”.
The trust said in a response to the report that Mr Gilliland, chief executive of the Priory academies, had a philosophy of creating a “unique learning environment” that required an “appropriate and significant” investment in artwork, sculptures, gardens, a rifle range and swimming pool. New pupils have to walk through a replica of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral.
But it admitted his “charismatic and forceful” style had led to some “friction” around Lincoln as he developed a group of four academies – secondary schools funded directly from Whitehall and so free from local authority control.
The Department for Education report found there was “poor financial management” and “liberal policies on credit card usage”, prompting fears that “fraud may have taken place”.
Mr Gilliland spent £45,000 on the “high standard” refurbishment of an apartment at Laughton Manor, an equestrian centre, where he intended to live but never moved in because of the tax implications. This included £14,000 on a new kitchen, £10,000 on a bathroom and the remainder on carpets, curtains and furniture. He also claimed £990 for the tax advice from an accountant.
He also authorised the “high cost” £1.4million refurbishment of a residential centre in France, where he and his family would stay and where he kept some personal possessions. His wife also held a “dance school week” there while staff, their partners and children would stay there when the caretakers were on holiday.
Mr Gilliland made “extensive” use of academy credit cards including some of an “inappropriate nature to be delivered to a school site (e.g. sex games and supplements)”.
The cards were used to buy two iPads, video game systems, a dishwasher and washing machine, alcohol, £8,564 worth of bedding and sofas, 18-rated DVDs as well as dance and yoga ones, and food and drink bills in France.
Mr Gilliland, 51, said some purchases were legitimate but is repaying about £12,000.
He also claimed expenses of £4,351 for equestrian training and products for his son, Kia, although in some cases the invoices did not make clear who they were for.
His son was employed to stop vandals getting into the equestrian centre and was apparently paid £18,995 including overtime and a payoff after he resigned “because of anticipated interest from the News of the World in a proposed article aimed at bringing the Priory into disrepute”.
Mr Gilliland’s daughter, Anna, was engaged as a consultant and paid £55,585 in a year, as well as £868 expenses for a trip to Bali, ahead of pupils going there on a diving drip.
His wife, Linda, was paid £6,030 for consultancy work.
Mr Gilliland has now resigned and did not receive a pay-off, according to the trust. He could not be contacted for comment.
The academies’ finance director until last year, Steve Davies, is “not a qualified accountant”.
He is a sailor and “is currently sailing his boat in the Caribbean”, with the school paying the £652 cost of renting him a satellite phone.
He also used a company credit card to buy his own leaving gift, a £505 “deluxe metal sextant”.
One particular building firm was said to have been awarded £6m worth of work by the academies but the work was not always put out to tender, “running the risk of a [legal] challenge by other suppliers”.
The Department made a series of recommendations for improving procurement, control of petty cash, credit cards and expenses and use of the French centre. The trustees of the academies say they are “working to put into place systems that will prevent the trust being put in this position ever again”.
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “This is quite an extraordinary abuse of position and power and confirms the NUT’s fears about where the lack of accountability in academies can lead.
“The report into this case underlined and revealed serious mismanagement at all levels and concluded ‘that regularity and transparency in the use of public funds had not been demonstrated.”