Cornwall

Bryce Wilby suspension row re-ignites on Isles of Scilly

Bryce Wilby
Image caption Mr Wilby has not spoken publicly since he resigned from his post in July

The row over the suspension of Five Islands School's head teacher has been described as a "minefield" by the local MP and a "mess" by the chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Since Bryce Wilby was suspended in May, there have been accusations the suspension was instigated by a senior council officer.

The council has strongly denied the allegations, saying it was the school governors' decision.

But it has emerged that Chief Executive Philip Hygate asked Cornwall Council for advice on suspension before the school governors were made aware of any problems.

Local councillors said they were shocked by the details, which were published in the Western Morning News on Thursday from a leaked email, which Mr Hygate's office confirmed was genuine.

The email has also angered some residents, who claim it appears to show the suspension was orchestrated by the Council of the Isles of Scilly, rather than the governors.

One resident, who asked not be named, said: "Surely if this is true, it was a premeditated act and shows the undue influence the chief executive has.

"It's an abuse of power. These are strong terms, I know, but I would have thought it was the governors' job to deal with such things."

Another said they believed Mr Wilby was suspended because he had been "brave enough to challenge council decisions".

Council chairman Mike Hicks told BBC News the situation was a "mess" and had to be sorted.

He said despite working hard to establish the truth, councillors had "taken some flak" from residents and, as chairman of the council, he owed it to the public to ensure the matter was investigated thoroughly, but not internally.

Image caption MP Andrew George has asked the Education Secretary to look into the situation at the school

He told BBC News: "We've followed officers' advice and we've sought legal advice at every juncture and, until yesterday, I was comfortable with what we, as councillors, have done.

"But I'm not happy about this email information and I'm determined to get to the bottom of it.

"This has re-ignited the rows and suspicions again and the public have the right to know the truth.

"They, and our elected members, are feeling extremely bruised and I'm not happy with the situation... I'd say we're in a dark place at the moment."

Mr Hicks said at a meeting on Thursday night he had asked Mr Hygate for further clarification and his sole aim now was to "pull the community together" so people could focus on the "magnificent" new school.

"Despite all the nonsense, the children have had brilliant results and that's something we should be celebrating," he added.

'Minefield'

St Ives MP Andrew George, whose constituency includes the Isles of Scilly, said he too would welcome an open and transparent investigation.

He said he had asked the secretary of state for education to review the situation, which could form part of any such investigation.

The Liberal Democrat MP described the current situation on the islands as a "minefield".

"Everyone is deserving of due process... so the debate has to be calm and rational," Mr George added.

When Mr Wilby was suspended, he was given no explanation or reason, but the council later said a routine audit had raised concerns about "apparent financial irregularities".

Mr Hygate has refused to comment, but Penny Penn-Howard, director of children's services, said when these came to light she was the one who asked Mr Hygate to seek legal advice from Cornwall Council about the "options available".

'Normal procedure'

In order to carry out a full "unencumbered" audit it was necessary to suspend the head teacher, she said.

She also confirmed Cornwall Council had drafted a letter of suspension before the governors' meeting on 18 May which could be used "if they elected to follow this procedure".

Preparing such documentation was "normal practice", Ms Penn-Howard said, but she denied the town hall was driving Mr Wilby's suspension.

"We presented the facts of the initial findings of audit and advised the governing body of normal procedure under such circumstances."

When the financial concerns were first raised, she said Peter Lawrence-Roberts, the council's director of finance and head of human resources, commissioned Cornwall Council to carry out a full audit of the school's financial systems.

Mr Lawrence-Roberts, however, who is currently on annual leave, told the Western Morning News he did not know what had been discussed between Mr Hygate and Cornwall Council, and is quoted as being "very shocked to learn of the leaked email and its contents".

The full audit by Cornwall Council has not yet been completed.

Mr Wilby, who denied any wrongdoing when he was suspended, resigned from his post in July and has not spoken since. His contract with the local education authority is due to finish on 31 August.

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