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Lilac Sky founder drops legal challenge over school ban

The full story behind one of the biggest academy trust collapses will remain secret after its founder dropped a legal challenge because allegations would have been made public.

Last year the government barred Trevor Averre-Beeson from managing schools citing “inappropriate conduct”.

The Lilac Sky Schools Trust he set up was shut down in 2016. Its nine schools were re-brokered amid a government investigation into allegations of financial “impropriety”.

Government troubleshooters parachuted into the trust found “inappropriate” spending on luxury alcohol, council grants paid straight into Averre-Beeson’s consultancy bank account and severance paid to staff who were then hired as consultants the next day, annual accounts stated.

But the government is refusing to publish its report, claiming the investigation is still ongoing eight years later.

‘Dozens of pages’ of evidence

Appealing against the decision to ban him this week, Averre-Beeson said a lot of the Department for Education’s evidence was a “broad character assassination”. Some of it was “not accurate” and other elements were “hearsay”, he claimed.

The court heard that his ban was based on five allegations, with evidence from the government’s witness in an “enormous file” that had “dozens of pages”.

Averre-Beeson was advised by tribunal judge Siobhan Goodrich that the appeal would not look “afresh” at the case. Instead, it would be for Averre-Beeson to prove that the government’s decision was flawed.

The judge also explained that the government’s allegations would be scrutinised “in detail”. An application from Averre-Beeson for the hearing to be held in private was thrown out.

Despite withdrawing his appeal, he maintained that the ban was “unfair on me and my family and our ability to earn a living”.

But going through “in detail” the contents of the evidence bundle “would be very challenging and create more stress for myself and my family”.

Judge Goodrich said it was an “appropriate and sensible” decision.

‘Conduct of serious nature’

Alex Line, representing the education secretary, said Averre-Beeson’s “conduct is of a serious nature and the [banning] decision was absolutely justified. The withdrawal of the appeal gives credence to that.”

He also raised “real concerns” about the trust founder’s conduct during the legal proceedings. It was “naïve” to think there would not be a presumption in favour of open justice, he added.

The government agreed not to pursue Averre-Beeson to pay its legal costs, but this was “an action that has not been taken lightly”.

Under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, the education secretary can ban “unsuitable” people from managing schools.

The route is separate to that of the Teacher Regulation Agency, where an independent panel can ban teachers from working in schools altogether.

Since 2015, 33 people have been barred under section 128. Most (20) followed convictions for offences including running an illegal school and terrorism.

Undermining British values, safeguarding failures relating to terrorism incidents and one case of racist comments towards Jewish people were other reasons.

Four people involved in academy trust collapses have been banned. They include Christopher Bowler, who was chief executive of Lilac Sky after Beeson stepped down.

Secrecy is ‘scandalous’

Government guidance published in 2021 set out more details about the power. It said that staff in scope included those in management positions, but also those who could be appointed in future, including deputy heads or principals. Governors and chief finance officers were also in scope.

Reasons could include the breaking of academy funding rules or being involved in “reckless” spending.

The only other case to go to an appeal trial, which is held by the Care Standard Tribunal, was that of Tahir Alam.

The former chair of governors at a Birmingham school was banned in 2015 for his role in the “Trojan horse” affair. His ban was upheld on appeal.

Judge Goodrich said Averre-Beeson’s case was “very different” and that case law had “developed” since Alam’s appeal.

Line said evidence that was not available to the secretary of state at the time of the ban should not be considered. Averre-Beeson wanted to submit witness statements from his wife and accountant.

The case was described as “akin to a review rather than a rehearing”.

As the case has been withdrawn, Line requested that the point of law comments should be “dealt with” in the judge’s final report as they “could be of assistance in cases going forward”.

Transparency campaigner Andy Jolley said the government’s “secrecy over the Lilac Sky case” was “scandalous”.

He added: “It’s not just that the families of pupils who saw their education disrupted should have answers. It’s also unfair on those accused to keep the evidence that ministers say supports their ban from scrutiny.”

The DfE and Averre-Beeson declined to comment.

Averre-Beeson went on to take over a 100-year private school run by nuns, which shut down in six months after running out of money.

He was unable to repay a £150k director’s loan taken out before the firm went bust, with hundreds of thousands of pounds owed to staff.

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