Boss of firm in jubilee stewards row has criminal conviction

A company that attracted controversy for using unpaid work experience stewards at the diamond jubilee celebrations is under renewed pressure after it emerged its founder was convicted for perverting the course of justice.

Close Protection UK, founded by Molly Prince, came under scrutiny after a small number of unpaid stewards on work experience for the firm complained that they had been forced to shelter under a bridge for several hours before they started work during the jubilee celebrations. Other stewards, however, said they found the work useful and praised the firm’s training.

News that Prince was convicted in 1994 for perverting the course of justice has prompted Lord Prescott to ask what checks were done on her and her company when it was awarded a reputed £850,000 contract to provide fire safety staff at the Olympics.

Prince, a former publican, disclosed her conviction in a chapter she contributed to a book on bouncers. She described how she received a 12-month suspended sentence after accepting her barrister’s advice to plead guilty to the offence, following an attack by two men on a man who had assaulted a barmaid.

Since then Prince has gone on to build a business empire by providing doormen and protection staff and through offering courses that help people gain qualifications to work in the private security sector.

Last week CPUK was awarded a contract to provide fire marshals at all of the Olympic Games venues. Insiders suggest that CPUK won the deal because it was significantly more competitive on price than its rivals, which were offering to supply trained firefighters rather than marshals.

A press release, issued earlier this month by the Prospects Group, the company that provided the 50 apprentices who were working for £2.80 an hour as CPUK’s jubilee stewards, confirmed they were to perform “fire safety duties at up to 26 Olympic site venues”. A further 30 people aged over 25 who acted as unpaid jubilee stewards would also be “joining the Olympics security team”, the release confirmed.

Prescott questioned whether CPUK was taking advantage of its access to cheap labour to win Olympics contracts, a claim vigorously denied by the firm. “The public would rather see trained fire officers on call than inexperienced and poorly trained young people,” Prescott said. He added that Olympic organisers “must now urgently explain what due diligence they did of CPUK”.

Communicating via email through the PR company Max Clifford Associates, Prince said she was unable to discuss the fire-marshalling contract because it included a non-disclosure clause. She said CPUK won the contract because “the main contractor does not have sufficient staff”.

The Observer has confirmed that CPUK’s fire marshals have not been tested during practice drills at the Olympic stadium. A test took place at the stadium on 5 May, before the contract was awarded, which involved marshals provided by another company bidding to supply the service. “It was not essential that CPUK were at the stadium,” said a spokeswoman for Locog, the body organising the Games. “They were tested at bigger and more complex events and their performance was monitored by an accredited external fire engineer, the London Fire Brigade, and the venue teams, amongst others. They received very positive feedback from all parties.”

Attention is also turning to other firms in Prince’s empire. One of her companies, the Leadership Development Centre, was the sole subcontractor on a £2.5m training contract awarded last year by the government’s Skills Funding Agency to three colleges in the north-west of England.

LDC offers BTec courses in security and safety provision, which are attractive to young, unemployed people because they are paid for by the government and include guaranteed work experience at CPUK.

Prince said: “I have nothing to hide in my businesses, and the only thing that John Prescott has brought up is an 18-year-old incident which I witnessed and didn’t deal with very well.”

Paul Champion

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Twitter: @blogapprentice
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