Friends of the Earth Trust says it did not mislead Charity Commission

Fracking: row has developed
Fracking: row has developed
  • This story has been clarified: see final paragraph

The environmental charity the Friends of the Earth Trust has rejected accusations published in The Times newspaper this morning that it deliberately misled the Charity Commission.

The charity was accused of continuing to campaign against fracking, despite announcing in June that it had handed the campaign against shale gas extraction techniques to a separate company, Friends of the Earth Limited.

Last month, the commission said it was reviewing its policy on the naming of non-charitable campaigning groups connected to charities after receiving a complaint from the fracking company Cuadrilla that the similarity between the names Friends of the Earth Trust and Friends of the Earth Limited was confusing.

The latest accusations from Cuadrilla, published in The Times, said the charity "misled" the regulator by issuing press releases that campaigned against fracking, which should have been published by the company, and had later doctored them.

But a Friends of the Earth spokeswoman said there had been a mistake on the press releases that appeared on the organisation’s website, not those that had been sent out, because the bottom of the website contained an automatic footer saying it had been published by the Friends of the Earth Trust.

The commission contacted the charity on 29 January to point out the mistake and it was corrected the same day, she said.

Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said: "It is today’s Cuadrilla story in The Times that seems to be misleading. The headline could read ‘Charity does what Charity Commission asks’.

"The real issue here is about fracking in Lancashire and the wishes of local people, who have already rejected fracking."

The story comes after the government called in a decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse permission for Cuadrilla to build two fracking wells in the area.

The government has launched a public inquiry into the matter, and the first public hearing is being held today. Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will have the final say on the issue.

Childs dismissed The Times story as "a nonsense story designed to distract from the real threat of fracking" and part of Cuadrilla’s "repeated attempts to silence and discredit" those opposed to it.

A Charity Commission spokesman said: "Charities have a right to campaign. When this campaigning becomes political, trustees must take care that it furthers the charity’s objectives and does not stray into party political campaigning."

He said the commission’s investigation after Cuadrilla’s initial complaint had revealed nothing to suggest the Friends of the Earth Trust had contravened its CC9 guidance on the issue.

He said: "We have an ongoing engagement with the Friends of the Earth Trust, particularly regarding its relationship to the non-charitable company Friends of the Earth Limited. We cannot comment further while this engagement continues."

  • The story originally said that charities are not allowed to engage in political campaigning. In fact a charity can campaign for a change in the law or government policy providing that this aligns with the charity's purposes and that the charity does not give its support to a particular political party or candidate.

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