MP criticises Charity Commission for 'deafening silence' over Afghan Heroes

Charity now defunct
Charity now defunct

James Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, has criticised the Charity Commission for its "deafening" silence on the results of its inquiry into the now dormant Somerset-based charity for veterans, Afghan Heroes.

The investigation was opened in December 2013 after the charity's accounts for the 2012/13 financial year showed it received £548,440 in 2012 but spent only £15,153 on charitable activities. No report has yet been published.

The charity was founded in 2009 by Denise Harris, whose 26-year-old son Lee was killed while serving in Helmand Province that year.

In February 2014, the commission appointed an interim manager, who found that the charity, which offers care and support to veterans and their families, was "not viable or sustainable". The charity has since been prevented from fundraising or administering grants.

Heappey told the BBC he had written to the regulator, expressing concern that the commission’s "silence was rather deafening".

He said: "The Charity Commission stepped in because it, potentially, saw wrongdoing.

"The problem is that was two years ago and nothing has come back since.

"It does beg the question for those who were involved in the charity, those who supported it and those who were helped by it, what exactly is going on, because they want an answer."

It is not the first time the commission has been criticised for its management of the case – a highly critical Public Accounts Committee report on the Charity Commission, published in early February 2014, the same week as the interim manager’s appointment, said the handling of Afghan Heroes was evidence that "the commission's internal processes and investigations are slow and inefficient".

Responding to Heappey’s comments, a commission spokesman said: "We are sensitive to the genuine public interest in the outcome of our investigation into Afghan Heroes, especially locally in Somerset.

"We would like to reassure the community that our work is progressing as swiftly as possible.

"There are certain factors in this case that mean we cannot yet conclude our inquiry, and we will explain these once the investigation has concluded."

In the meantime, he said, the commission could not comment further without jeopardising the inquiry’s work.

He said the commission had not yet received Heappey’s letter, but had been in touch with his office to request a copy of the letter to respond to him directly.

"Afghan Heroes still exists as a charity and is being administered by the interim manager (who is based in London)," he said.

"It is not actively fundraising or administering grants at the moment."

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