Justine Greening urged to sort out 'shambolic' Trojan Horse witness scheme

A Labour former frontbencher has urged Justine Greening to step in and sort out the "dog's breakfast" her department has made of the fallout from the Trojan Horse scandal.

Liam Byrne believes the Education Secretary must act to stop a move to reveal whistle-blowers' identities to headteachers facing disciplinary action linked to the scandal.

Lawyers acting for the Department for Education have written to notify dozens of people who gave evidence about allegations of hardline Islamic influence in Birmingham classrooms based on the promise of anonymity.

Birmingham City Council has already called on ministers to intervene and halt the disclosure of the identities of individuals to lawyers acting for five ex-headteachers who are currently in the midst of a disciplinary hearing.

Mr Byrne, the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Department for Education, I'm afraid, is making a dog's breakfast of this and you have now got fear rippling through those witnesses who were brave enough to come forward and state the fact that there was a problem."

Former Met Police counter-terrorism commander Peter Clarke carried out a Government-ordered investigation in 2014 into several city schools implicated in the alleged plot, speaking to dozens of staff anonymously.

His original findings found "clear evidence" of a group of like-minded individuals working to support "extremist views" in classrooms but the report found no evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in schools.

Mr Byrne agreed that the principles of open justice suggest people should be able to answer accusations made against them directly.

However, he said: "But that then begs the question was Peter Clarke actually empowered to give the guarantees of anonymity which he gave to 50 witnesses, myself included by the way when I gave evidence, and second, if he wasn't why did Department for Education lawyers put forward evidence to the tribunal that could have resulted in full disclosure of witnesses' identity?

"This has been a pretty shambolic process and Justine Greening has now got to step in and sort it out pronto."

He added: "There is complete confusion as to what is going on at the moment but meantime you have got 50 witnesses many of whom were given guarantees of anonymity, that's the reason they came forward, and they are now being told their names are going to be released so it is complete chaos."

Mr Byrne said the tribunal needed to find a way of "distilling the essential facts and give those to the teachers" so that accusations could be heard appropriately.

The Department for Education is believed to be examining all the legal issues and has not disclosed any witnesses' details, nor has any final decision on whether to do so yet been taken.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said the Department for Education (DfE) must not "back away from the assurances these individuals were given".

He said: "We have managed to secure a temporary block on the DfE's plans to remove the right to anonymity for the school leaders who first came forward to report the Trojan Horse affair three years ago. However it is essential that the DfE keeps its promise of anonymity completely. Many of these individuals came forward at great personal cost and would not have done so if they'd known that promises of anonymity could be broken.

"It is vital that where anonymity is promised it is kept. Without this, witnesses may think twice about coming forward, meaning that future cases might never be uncovered or investigated. And this creates risks for young people in our schools."

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