SCHOOLS HIT BY £5M SCAM
Company director is facing jail
Ex-Wales footballer also in dock:
A FORMER Welsh international footballer and a company director from Anglesey are among six men facing jail after scamming £5 million from schools and colleges using a bogus sports leadership scheme.
Former Wales international Mark Aizlewood, 57, and fellow ex soccer pro Paul Sugrue, 56 – whose past clubs include Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City – promised to help struggling youngsters gain an NVQ in activity leadership.
They told colleges across the country they would provide full-time training in football coaching as well as offering work experience and a £95 weekly stipend to 3,800 students.
But, in reality, hundreds of the students on their books didn’t exist, many lived at the opposite end of the country from the scheme, while others were doing just two to three hours of study a week.
Last week, Aizlewood was convicted of one count and Sugrue of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation by offering the nonexistent apprenticeships through their firm Luis Michael Training Ltd at Southwark Crown Court in London.
Aizlewood was also acquitted of a second court of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
The pair – along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, and Christopher Martin, 53 – submitted false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm.
They promised the colleges it was the perfect opportunity for “NEETs”, or youngsters not in employment, education or training, to gain a qualification.
Williams was also convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Football coach Jack Harper, 30, was convicted of fraud and using a false instrument. He was acquitted of another count of conspiracy to commit false representation.
Martin admitted two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation ahead of trial, along with Stephen Gooding, 53, who admitted one charge.
Judge Michael Tomlinson described the case as “very serious” and adjourned sentencing until February 26.
The company enrolled suitable apprentices to claim money from the colleges, which in turn received funding from the Government-run Learning and Skills Council (LSC), later renamed the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).
Gooding and Harper, who were employed in the business, helped funnel new learners into the scheme. Some of the bogus students were sourced from a summer football camp run by Harper, who secretly enrolled students to apprenticeships without their knowledge or consent.
LM Training even got sixth formers on work experience to complete tests on behalf of learners, to make it seem like they had the minimum level of maths and English competency. The work experience students were told they were just practice papers.
When the scam unravelled, the Skills Funding Agency demanded its money back, leaving large deficits in the budgets of many schools.
Aizlewood denied any wrongdoing, telling the jury he had been preoccupied by his late wife’s spiralling mental health problems before her suicide in June last year.
The former player, who was capped 39 times for his country and made more than 500 appearances in the football league, described how his wife, Penelope, was suffering from alcohol and drug problems, as well as depression.
Aizlewood said: “It just made Luis Michael, in many ways, of no significance. I had bigger battles to fight”
His barrister, Nigel Lambert QC, asked Aizlewood: “What really was your mental attitude of that time, what you were focusing on?” He replied: “On my family.” Aizlewood, from Aberdare, Mid Glamorgan, Sugrue, from Cardiff, Williams, from Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, Harper, of Southport, Merseyside, Martin, from Catmore, in West Berkshire, and Gooding, from of Bridgwater, Somerset, were released on bail.