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Edinburgh school accused of discrimination by ex-spy is cleared

<span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

A Scottish private school accused of discrimination by a former MI6 agent who spied inside al-Qaida has been cleared of wrongdoing but asked to improve how it handles disputes with parents.

St George’s school in Edinburgh was accused by Aimen Dean, a former bombmaker who was regarded as one of the west’s most important moles inside al-Qaida, of repeatedly discriminating against his daughter because other parents feared he was a security risk.

In a formal complaint last year to Scotland’s Registrar of Independent Schools, Dean alleged there was a “toxic environment” at St George’s due to its handling of a handful of complaints about his presence at the school, and its treatment of him and his family.

He said the school forced him and his daughter, then aged five, to have different arrival and drop-off times at school to avoid other children, which damaged his daughter’s education. He alleged senior staff said he was better off leaving Scotland, for his children’s sake.

Alexander O’Neill, the registrar, has cleared St George’s of breaching the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and said he would not impose any conditions on the running of the school, unless fresh allegations of wrongdoing emerged.

However, O’Neill recommended the school and its governors improve some of their procedures for handling disputes, some of which centred on angry exchanges involving Dean on a parents’ WhatApp group.

“While no conditions have been imposed on the running of the school, and the school has not been found to be objectionable, it is recommended that the school and governors reflect on the school’s response to the WhatsApp group matter, the decision to preclude your access to school grounds, and wider issues you raised, with a view to identifying where school policy and practice may be improved,” O’Neill said.

“The school and governors should also give particular consideration to how the school may better structure any future requests to preclude a parent or guardian’s access to school grounds.”

St George’s said it was pleased with O’Neill’s ruling. “We welcome the registrar’s decision which clearly confirms the school’s actions have been proper and the allegations made against us unfounded,” a spokesperson said. “We always strive to operate to the highest professional standards and will carefully reflect on the informal recommendations made by the registrar.”

Dean, who emigrated with his wife and two children to the Middle East after the dispute with St George’s, was unhappy with the ruling.

He said O’Neill’s letter to him had failed to state clearly whether the registrar believed the school’s actions had safeguarded his daughter and her interests by requiring her to start school later than other children. Dean remains convinced it did not; he feels Edinburgh’s elite closed ranks against an outsider.

“I’m not satisfied with this letter,” he said. “It needed to state that my daughter’s wellbeing was sufficiently safeguarded. Why didn’t they say that? If it wasn’t safeguarded, it means the school should’ve been found objectionable.”

A spokesperson for Education Scotland, the government agency that includes the registrar, said it could not comment on individual cases but rejected any suggestion it was biased.

Senior western intelligence experts said last year that Dean, who spied for the UK inside al-Qaida for eight years, had helped save hundreds or possibly thousands of lives. His intelligence helped thwart an attack on the New York subway and led to the assassinations of key al-Qaida leaders.