Charity Commission in war of words with former charity president

John Cooper QC, former president of the League Against Cruel Sports, says his complaint about the treatment of whistleblowers by the charity has been ignored by the regulator

The Charity Commission and a prominent barrister are engaged in a war of words over the commission’s handling of a complaint about the League Against Cruel Sports.

In an article published in the Thunderer column in The Times on Friday morning, John Cooper QC, who works for the chambers 25 Bedford Row and is a former chairman and president of the League Against Cruel Sports, said he complained to the Charity Commission on 30 March 2016 about the charity’s treatment of whistleblowers.

This followed an investigation by The Times into the finances of the league.

Cooper said in his article that he had not been contacted by the commission about his complaint, a claim that has been denied by the regulator.

Cooper’s article said: "Last month, I spoke to someone from its technical team who apologised for the delay and promised to call back. Guess what? Nothing. It seems that the public are not allowed to speak directly to the commission’s complaints team and so, nearly a year later, it has still not properly acknowledged my complaint."

But the commission disputed Cooper’s version of events, which the regulator said was "factually inaccurate and misleading".

A letter from Kenneth Dibble, director of legal services at the Charity Commission, responding to the article and published in Saturday's Times said that although Cooper did contact the regulator about the league and whistleblowers were invited to explain concerns in person, "no evidence was provided" and the commission’s questions "were not answered".

In a further response, Cooper told Third Sector that his complaint was distinct from a separate issue raised by whistleblowers at the charity and that his complaint centred on his removal as president of the League Against Cruel Sports and his support for whistleblowers.

The commission’s letter said that Dibble met Cooper in person and explained the need for evidence.

Cooper told Third Sector that Dibble had not discussed his complaint with him, and the only time Dibble spoke to him was when Cooper was contacted by one of the whistleblowers during a meeting they had with Dibble to discuss that individual complaint.

"At this interview, the whistleblower rang me on my mobile telephone and indicated that she was concerned at the demands of Dibble and wanted my guidance," Cooper said. "The essence of the concern was that Dibble was demanding that she attend interview on her own without support.

"I asked Dibble if the same would apply to trustees and he refused to give that undertaking as it was the commission’s policy to interview trustees altogether at the same time. I objected to this on behalf of the whistleblower and suggested to Dibble that he think again and that the whistleblower would return on a future date with a dossier of material that might persuade him that, in this contentious instance, all trustees should be interviewed separately. He agreed and that was the last time we spoke."

Dibble said in his letter that he was promised a dossier of evidence by Cooper, but that so far "no substantive allegations or indeed evidence have been provided to the commission by either party".

The letter said: "Because of the high-profile nature of the issues, we engaged with the trustees, inspected the charity’s books and records and found no evidence to support concerns.

"The commission is a proportionate, evidence-based regulator. We take very seriously concerns of wrongdoing about charities. But we cannot take this particular matter any further without evidence. 

"If Mr Cooper has evidence, I would ask him to share it with us as a matter of urgency, so that we can assess it in line with our usual processes."

In response, Cooper said he sent the commission a two-page letter outlining his concerns and said: "In any event, I am surprised that upon the completion of the commissions 'investigation' neither the whistleblower nor I were informed, and had it not been for my column in The Times we would have still been anxiously waiting information."

The Charity Commission said it had no further comment to make and would contact Cooper directly.

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