Lib Dem candidate Vincent McKee suspended over fraud claims

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Indy Politics

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate was suspended by the party today after allegations that a company he runs was overcharging students.

Vincent McKee is founder and director of the Coventry-based Institute of Independent Colleges and University Teachers (ICUT), which allegedly took unauthorised payments totalling more than £5,000 from clients' bank accounts.

A Sky News investigation claimed students and parents who gave their bank details when booking lessons through ICUT found they were charged more than they had expected.

But Dr McKee today denied any wrongdoing. In a rebuttal issued by his company, he said the broadcaster's investigations were conducted in a "very partial and prejudiced way".

According to Sky News, some £685 was taken from the account of student Ivie Ogodan, who was planning to spend only £90, while £3,260 was removed from the account of another student's mother.

And a Sky News reporter who signed up his fictitious son for a course of two lessons worth £60 said ICUT removed £203.50 from his account on Christmas Day and £125 on Boxing Day before trying, and failing, to take a further £225 the next day, even though the lessons were cancelled two days after being booked.

But today Dr McKee said ICUT was currently chasing around £10,000 of debt owed by former clients abusing "chargeback" rules.

He said: "ICUT's policy is for advance payments of lessons and registrations, and this is in place on account of adverse past experiences with unreliable and downright dishonest former clients.

"ICUT is in the process of amending our current practice to request clients at registration to indicate on the form how many lessons they expect to need.

"The current arrangement does not make that request, but we are hoping that the new arrangement will clarify very clearly the minimum number of lessons required, as well as specifying payments.

"In that way, we expect there to be a minimalisation of misunderstandings such as has led to this embarrassing episode.

"An organisation like ICUT with over 2,000 clients last year cannot realistically expect to please everyone, but we do genuinely try where overcharging or poor service has occurred to refund customers within a reasonable period."

The statement said there were also many clients whom ICUT had seen through exams and course difficulties.

"While sorry that we have not managed to keep everyone happy, still we feel some pride in our positive achievements over the past five years," it added.

Former politics lecturer Mr McKee contested the Coventry South parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats in 2001 and 2005 and Coventry North East in 1992 and describes himself on the ICUT website as head of policy with Coventry Liberal Democrats.

Following the broadcast of the Sky investigation, a Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "With the support of the federal party, the regional party launched an immediate investigation.

"Mr McKee has been suspended from the party, pending the outcome of further investigations. The party will work with all other authorities involved in this matter."

A West Midlands Police spokesman said: "Officers from West Midlands Police are talking to Sky News about their findings but we cannot comment any further at this stage."