Marriage of chief executive to chair 'caused conflicts of interest'

Charity Commission report also says comments by Christine Pratt, chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline, compromised anonymity of helpline users

Christine Pratt
Christine Pratt

The National Bullying Helpline, the defunct charity that said it had taken calls from staff at Number 10 Downing Street, faced conflicts of interest because its chief executive was married to its chair, according to the Charity Commission.

The commission opened an inquiry in February 2010 after Christine Pratt, founder and chief executive of the helpline, said it had received calls from staff complaining of bullying at Number 10 Downing Street when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister.

A Charity Commission inquiry report, published today, says Pratt’s comments prompted "a large number of complaints" to the commission from members of the public who felt she was likely to have compromised those people’s anonymity.

According to the report, other trustees of the charity, which has since closed, told the commission they had suggested that Pratt should stop talking to the media after her initial comments, but that she had not complied with these instructions.

Her position eventually led to the resignation of four of the five trustees. Later, the commission issued an order under the Data Protection Act to prevent the charity from disclosing any more information.

Pratt’s husband David was the chair of the charity, and both worked for his company, HR & Diversity Management Ltd, which provided funding to the helpline. The report says this relationship generated a number of conflicts of interest that were not properly managed.

The report says statements made by the charity had "the clear potential to undermine public trust and confidence in charity, the reputation and work of the charity and other helplines".

It says that "the statements were contrary to the charity’s own code of conduct and its published position on privacy", and that "trustees did not take sufficient steps to assert their authority to protect information provided to and held by the charity".

It also says that although there was no evidence the company had benefited financially from its association with the charity, "the charity had failed to adequately address ongoing conflicts of interest, which had the potential to undermine public trust and confidence in the charity".

The inquiry concluded that the trustee body "lacked cohesion" and that individual trustees were unaware of their role and responsibilities.

The charity closed in January 2011. However, a statement on the National Bullying Helpline website says the helpline continues to operate as a non-charity.

"Registering as a charity was non-productive for a number of reasons," the website says. "The founders felt unable to lobby or campaign freely – as one might expect from an operation striving with good cause to improve laws and lives. Also, funding became an issue.

"A business decision was therefore taken to revert back to a helpline and website to continue to provide timely support to those who need it. Charitable status is not an essential requirement."

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National Bullying Helpline

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