Following a five-month trial at Southwark Crown Court, former Welsh international footballer Mark Aizlewood and two others were found guilty of a conspiracy to defraud arising out of an apprenticeship scheme that targeted colleges, football clubs and sports associations. These convictions follow guilty pleas by two other defendants before the start of the trial. A sixth defendant was also found guilty of two charges linked to attempts to defraud a single college a year later.
The company run by four of the defendants, Luis Michael Training, approached further education colleges offering to provide football coaching apprenticeships for young people. The company provided little to no training to learners on the course, and in some cases signed up ‘ghost learners’ by stealing the identities of young people and pretending they were enrolled on the course. The defendants claimed £5 million from the Skills Funding Agency, over 3,000 learners were deprived of adequate training, and the colleges targeted lost more than £3.5 million to the fraud.
The defendants relied on the reputation of Mark Aizlewood and his co-defendant Paul Sugrue to sell the scheme to colleges, and sought endorsements from former professional footballers, including former Liverpool FC player Ian Rush.
Jack Harper, trading as FootballQualifications.Com, started his own fraudulent scheme and provided false documents to a college in an attempt to persuade them that learners were eligible for funding.
Alexandra Healy QC and Natalie McNamee were instructed by the Serious Fraud Office.