School principal believed to be among those questioned after three arrests over suspect fraud at academy

Glendene Academy in Easington Colliery.
Glendene Academy in Easington Colliery.
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THREE people arrested as part of a fraud investigation into a special needs school’s involvement with a Sunderland company have now been bailed.

Durham Police launched the inquiry amid claims of serious financial mismanagement of funding at Easington’s Glendene Arts Academy.

Officials from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which oversees the money spent by academies and free schools, revealed earlier this year it was recovering £162,000 claimed to have been misspent by the school in paying the salaries of employees, and the running costs, at a private company, Glendene Arts and Training Enterprise, The GATE NE Ltd, based on Sunderland’s Enterprise Park East.

During their investigation into the Crawlaw Road school, the EFA claimed there was no benefit for the academy from the Wearside business, which was initially set up for training and fund-raising. Yesterday morning police arrested a 57-year-old man and his 56-year-old wife at a home in Whitley Bay, which the Echo believes these to be Eric Baker, principal at Glendene, who is currently on sick leave, and his wife, Marian Baker, which The GATE NE Ltd’s website names as project manager.

A 41-year-old man was also arrested at a house in Darlington in connection with the investigation and police carried out a search at a home in Newcastle and say inquiries are in hand to make a further arrest.

All those detained, who were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud, were taken to Peterlee police station where they were being questioned yesterday.

A police spokesman said this morning the three have been released on police bail.

He said: “The two men and one woman were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud, and after being interviewed at Peterlee police station were last night bailed to a date in mid-July while enquiries continue.”

The investigation into the alleged financial irregularities was triggered by whistle-blowers in July last year.

Rob Wright, one of the whistle-blowers and now chairman of trustees at the school, said: “We are helping the police and education authorities to unravel and understand this extremely complex case.

“Because of the investigation, we are unable to comment on the case itself. However, the trustees and I are keen to assure parents and the local community that we have a strong interim leadership team, excellent teaching and excellent provision for vulnerable and special children – as well as robust financial systems.”

Glendene Arts Academy in Crawlaw Road caters for pupils aged two to 19-years-old who have special education needs ranging from mild to severe and profound learning difficulties, autism, and sensory difficulties such as hearing or visual impairment.