A GOVERNMENT quango has been told to apologise to four people who took the blame for the acrimonious collapse of a race watchdog.

Middlesbrough lecturer Mehdi Husaini, his wife, Sophie, Suku Ramoutar and Dennis Lane, have been fighting for five years to clear their names following the collapse of the Cleveland Racial Equality Council, (REC) on which all four served as officers.

The four Teesside borough councils of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton withdrew funding from the council after an industrial tribunal found the REC had discriminated against a white job applicant who was awarded £27,500 in compensation.

Parliamentary Ombudsman Dr Roy Wearnham has upheld a claim of maladministration against the REC's professional backers, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) over the job selection affair.

The ombudsman said in a report: "I have found that: CRE's support to the council and their panels was deficient; CRE gave an assurance not to seek to place responsibility for events on individuals but then did so.''

He said: "It was unfair of the CRE to place responsibility on the complainants for events in which CRE officers were crucially influential and at times, directive."

He said: "I have found that CRE officers strongly influenced events over a sustained period of time and actively did so to the detriment of the complainants.''

The Commission has written a letter of apology to the Teesside four and offered each of them the sum of £100 as a "goodwill gesture". However, the Commission does not accept the ombudsman's finding of maladministration.

Mr Lane said: "We are seeking legal redress. "We were made the scapegoats and have had to live with this injustice for five years. We were made the fall guys. I was shunned in my own (Labour) Party.''

The Mayor of Middlesbrough, Councillor Kath Bevington was "unwise" to have accepted a nomination to the steering committee of the REC, said local government ombudsman Patricia Thomas, in a report in which she identifies Coun Bevington, who was not the mayor at the time, only as "Councillor W".