Proposed Charity Commission powers are 'must-haves' to tackle terrorism, say senior police

Officers giving evidence to MPs and peers scrutinising the draft Protection of Charities Bill say the measures would also help to tackle financial crime

Anti-terrorism measures
Anti-terrorism measures

Proposed new powers for the Charity Commission will "help tremendously" with the government's anti-terror strategy and are vital to the prevention of financial crime, senior police officers have told the committee that is scrutinising the bill.

This contrasts with evidence given to the committee by charity sector representatives, some of whom have said the new powers are useful, but not vital.

The joint committee on the draft Protection of Charities Bill, which is made up of peers and MPs, yesterday heard from Detective Superintendent Peter O’Doherty, head of the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, Detective Chief Superintendent Terri Nicholson of the Metropolitan Police's Counter-Terrorism Command and Donald Toon, director of the economic crime command at the National Crime Agency. The draft bill includes measures that would allow the commission to disqualify from being a trustee anyone cautioned for or convicted of offences including money laundering and terrorism.

Asked by committee member Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP for Essex North, whether the government's counter-terror strategy would be aided by the new powers proposed for the commission, Nicholson replied: "The powers are going to help tremendously."

Nicholson said the power to disqualify someone with a terror offence from trusteeship would be helpful. She told the committee it would be helpful, too, if the maximum time for which a trustee could suspended from their duties pending their removal could be raised from 12 to 24 months. She said the commission "came very close to the expiry" of that period in a recent case involving Afghan Poverty Relief while it waited for the outcome of a criminal trial.

O'Doherty and Toon were asked by Jenkin: "Everybody happy with that?" Both agreed with Nicholson's position.

Nick Hurd MP, the Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and the former Minister for Civil Society, asked whether the bill's measures were "a nice-to-have or a must-have" with regard to preventing fraud and tax evasion, O'Doherty said: "Absolutely must-haves; absolutely." Toon said: "We think these are must-haves."

All three witnesses said terrorism prevention was a task best carried out using a multi-agency approach, and that no one organisation, including the commission, could do that job without intelligence shared by other bodies.

The committee later heard from Andrew Edwards, head of charities at HM Revenue & Customs, and David Kirk, chair of the charity the Fraud Advisory Panel. It is expected to hear evidence about the charity tribunal in its final session of the year next week, and is likely to have at least one more such meeting in January.

- This story was corrected on 11 December 2015. It originally said that Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal, would give evidence to the joint committee next week, but a spokesman for the committee said that this was unlikely to happen.

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