The government’s attempt to ban five senior teachers for their involvement in the Trojan horse controversy has been thrown out after government lawyers were accused of an “abuse of justice” by a tribunal.
The hearings against the five teachers – all accused of allowing undue Islamist influence in the running of three Birmingham schools – were halted after a disciplinary panel discontinued the proceedings, citing a repeated failure to share crucial evidence against the teachers.
Lawyers acting for the Department for Education (DfE) against the teachers, including former heads of Park View secondary school, failed to disclose the transcripts of witnesses who spoke to the investigation into the Trojan horse affair conducted by Peter Clarke, a former Scotland Yard officer and counter-terrorism chief.
The panel hearing the case at the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) in Coventry concluded that there had been an abuse of justice of such seriousness that it had no option but to end the hearings.
The decision by the independent panel brings an end to a case that began in 2014; since October 2015 the tribunal has held more than 30 days of hearings featuring dozens of witnesses.
The tribunal’s decision will be embarrassing for the DfE and ministers who had vowed to ban those involved in the Trojan horse affair from teaching.
The teachers included Lindsey Clark, Monzoor Hussain and Hardeep Saini, all former principals of schools in the Park View Educational Trust. The trust was at the centre of allegations of a plot involving an Islamist “takeover” of several state schools in east Birmingham.
The other two teachers were Arshad Hussain and Razwan Faraz, who held senior teaching positions at the trust.
The three panelists concluded: “The panel has decided that, in the particular circumstances relating to this case, there has been an abuse of the process which is of such seriousness that it offends the panel’s sense of justice and propriety.
“What has happened has brought the integrity of the process into disrepute.”
As the decision to close the hearings was announced, one of the teachers, Arshad Hussain, burst into tears, having attended the sessions since October 2015 when the hearings first got underway.
Lawyers for Monzoor Hussain said the case against their client had been “fundamentally flawed”.
In a statement, they said: “For three years Mr Hussain has been unable to carry out his profession, with all the financial pressures that has caused to his family. He welcomes that this unnecessary prosecution has finally ended. He would like to thank everyone who stood by him.”
The panel was meant to announce its decision in December 2016 and then again on 3 May this year, but each time the legal problems had forced delay.
Mick Levens, chair of the disciplinary panel judging the case for the NCTL, told the hearing: “There have been serious failures with regard to disclosure, which are far-reaching and extend over the entire life of this case.” He added: “[The panel] now knows, belatedly and only by chance, that these serious failures have beset these proceedings from the very outset.”
Central to the decision was the failure by lawyers acting for the DfE to disclose that they had access to interviews conducted for the Clarke inquiry, which was ordered by the then education secretary, Michael Gove, at the height of the controversy over the so-called Trojan horse letter.
The DfE’s legal team – an outside firm of solicitors – appear to have concealed the additional evidence even from its own barrister representing it at the NCTL hearings.
The panel found that the law firm, Nabarros, which has now merged into CMS, had possession of the transcripts of Clarke’s interviews since 2014 but failed to disclose that fact until the last minute, in a note sent to the panel this month as it was about to announce its decision.
“The panel finds that the decision to make no reference at all to the existence of the Clarke transcripts, despite the fact that a number of them have been used by CMS in the preparation of the witness statements, was deliberate,” the panel’s decision noted.
Access to the transcripts by the DfE’s lawyers was “in direct conflict with the understanding both the panel and the teachers’ representatives had been allowed to believe for many months, namely that the transcripts were in possession of the Department for Education or, for example, the House of Commons and ‘departmental misunderstandings’ had led to the failures on the part of the NCTL to meet its disclosure obligations”, according to the panel’s statement.
The panel was dismayed when a senior representative from the law firm failed to appear before it to explain the omission. “Despite the fact that the panel had directed witnesses to attend to give evidence, the partner was not in attendance. The reason given for her non-attendance was that she had to attend a partners’ meeting,” it said.
The panel concluded that the failure to disclose the evidence, and to deny it up until this month, made it impossible to conclude the hearing.
“It is fundamental to the proper administration of justice that the panel must be able to rely on the regulatory authority acting in a way which ensures the integrity of the process,” the panel said in its statement.
“Sadly, it is accepted by those presenting the case on behalf of the NCTL that the panel, the teachers and their representatives have been told matters which misrepresented the true position and that they have been misled.
“Even now, once the failures have been identified, the panel considers that there has been a lack of candour and openness with regard to the underlying reasons for those failures and a lack of cooperation in assisting the panel to get to the bottom of what has happened.”
The DfE has been approached for comment.