The Charity Commission has opened statutory inquiries into the religious charities the Global Aid Trust and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh UK after concerns that the charities were promoting extremism came to light in an undercover documentary broadcast on ITV last night.
The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh UK, a charity whose objects are to advance the Hindu religion and educate the public about Hinduism, came to the commission’s attention as a result of the Exposure documentary, called Charities Behaving Badly.
The commission will investigate comments made by a man invited to speak at the charity’s 10-day annual leadership camp at a school in Hertfordshire in the presence of the charity’s management and beneficiaries, which included children as young as 13.
The documentary appeared to show the speaker telling young Hindus that Muslims were the biggest problem for British people and that it was impossible to try to unify with Muslims. "Good Muslims can be counted on fingers," he said.
Of the Global Aid Trust, the commission said it already had already opened a case into the charity at the time it was contacted by the makers of the documentary.
The programme featured a worker from the charity, known as Shaffiq, showing admiration for Anwar al-Awlaki, the Islamic militant believed to be the inspiration for the Charlie Hebdo murderers.
It also showed Rizwan Hussain, at the time the acting chief executive and a trustee of the charity, making comments that could be construed as anti-semitic. He said: "They have these tunnels from various parts of the West Bank, as well as Jordan and other borders, and, when a conflict hits, these tunnels, what would cost you £100 to drive a car through to Gaza, costs you £2,000."
Asked by an undercover reporter who was in charge of these tunnels, Hussain said: "Gangsters. Jewish people."
Third Sector revealed on Monday that Hussain had stepped down from the charity "in connection with the documentary".
The commission said it had already been examining concerns of a similar nature to those raised in the programme and that it planned to investigate the charity’s management and how the trustees oversaw the content of GAT events.
Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the commission, said in a statement: "Footage relating to the two registered charities raises serious regulatory concerns. These will be investigated as part of the inquiries that have been opened.
"These kinds of incidents illustrate why it is important for the regulator to have the right tools to do the job. There are currently loopholes in the existing regulatory framework that we are seeking to close by looking for increased powers in the draft Protection of Charities Bill."
Russell said that the trustees of both charities had been notified of the inquiries and that they had both complied with its requests for information.
A spokesman from HSS UK said in a statement: "We are investigating these alleged comments with a view to ensuring that those who made them are either better informed and/or prevented from making statements that may be interpreted as anti other faith or community."
He said that the speaker filmed in the documentary was not a trustee or office holder at HSS, and that the charity was awaiting his response to the concerns expressed as part of its own investigation.
The spokesman told Third Sector that the man would not be making any further lectures or speeches for the charity. He said he welcomed the Charity Commission’s investigation because it would give HSS UK the opportunity to alleviate any concerns.
A statement on GAT’s website, dated 18 February, reads: "Tonight’s programme highlighted GAT staff and volunteers making alleged extremist comments. In response to this GAT has commissioned an independent investigation into the issues raised by the programme.
"Rizwan Hussein does not wish GAT to be tainted with his personal comments, which he now regrets, but strongly refutes any allegation that he is anti-semitic.
"GAT wishes to make it clear that it does not promote any extremist activities or terrorism. It has policies and procedures in place for preventing extremism, and in December last year, after an independent review, these were strengthened."
The third organisation featured in the documentary, the Steadfast Trust, has been removed from the charity register after the commission concluded it was not a charity and had been included on the register in error.
Footage in the documentary showed supporters of the Steadfast Trust shouting "white power" and "victory to the Aryan race". One supporter was filmed saying that he used to be a candidate for the National Front and was involved in the Ku Klux Klan.