Former chief executive of the Priory Federation of Academies Richard Gilliland, accused of fraud, was today cleared of all charges at the end of a 10-week trial at Lincoln Crown Court.
The organisation’s former finance director Stephen Davies was also cleared of three charges of fraud.
The jury deliberated over four days before returning their verdicts.
Gilliland, 65, who now lives in Spain, denied seven charges of fraud by abuse of position while chief executive of the federation which includes Priory Ruskin Academy in Grantham.
Davies, 58, of Abingdon Avenue, Lincoln, denied three charges of fraud by abuse of position.
The charges related to the period between October 2008 and November 2011 and followed a complaint made by the DfE to Lincolnshire Police.
At the end of the hearing trial judge Michael Heath made an order that Gilliland’s legal costs should be paid for out of central funds. The court was told that his defence had been funded by the National Association of Head Teachers.
Gilliland broke down in the dock and wept as the jury foreman delivered the final verdict.
Afterwards he said he was too emotional to speak and would only say: “It’s the right verdict. It’s been an awful time.”
Davies said: “It went exactly as I believed it would. The verdicts were as I expected. There was never any doubt. Despite a vigorous investigation I’ve been proved to have done nothing wrong.”
The prosecution claimed that Gilliland, who earned more than £200,000 a year, abused his position and used Federation funds as if they were his own.
Gilliland was alleged to have arranged for his son Kia Richardson to be employed as a yard manager at the Federation’s equestrian centre at Laughton Manor near Sleaford.
He was also alleged to have arranged for the organisation to pay Kia Richardson overtime and a severance deal after Mr Richardson quit in the wake of inquiries from a Sunday newspaper. Other allegations related to the funding of training courses for Kia Richardson.
Gilliland told the jury that there was “not a jot of evidence” against him and said he was the victim of a witch hunt.
During the trial, Gilliland’s barrister Mark Harries described his client as “an educator, innovator and pioneer” and said the prosecution case had “manipulation, misrepresentation and deceit” running through it like a virus.
Mr Harries added “Witch-hunt is a strong word but I make no apology for using it. The Crown’s evidence in this case is deeply flawed and dangerously selective.”
Mr Harries told the jury that the prosecution had decided to adopt the conclusions of a Department of Education report while ignoring any other contrary evidence.
He said the prosecution claim that Mr Gilliland acted out of greed was simply not credible, adding “It is rubbish, it is nonsense, and it is demonstrable when you look at the values we’re looking at.”
Davies, described as Gilliland’s right hand man, also denied any wrong-doing and said that decisions he made were “sound business sense”.