Sketch: Confessions of an English charity regulator

Andrew Hind makes a harrowing confession at the DSC law conference.

As public admissions of past misdemeanours go, Andrew Hind's story at the Charity Law Conference last week was even more bizarre than Bill Clinton's famous claim to have almost smoked cannabis.

At least you could see how Clinton would have broken the law if he hadn't had the moral strength to shut down his lungs at the critical moment. But delegates were left scratching their heads when conference panellists were asked to confess to any illegal acts they had been involved in: Hind's worst offence was once making a reverse-charges call from a phone box, only to be interrupted by an irate operator telling him his call had been traced and someone was "coming to see him".

But a debate on whether charities should break the law probably wasn't the best forum for the chief executive of the Charity Commission to admit to any real crimes. Hind was certainly aware that his position didn't leave him much wiggle room, noting that of the commission's 500 staff, not one had volunteered to speak on this subject - leaving him to "lead from the front".

By the time he spoke, he had already received staunch support from Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter. Sampson said breaking the law could be an effective campaigning tool, but there were other ways. "If you enjoy tax breaks, part of the obligation is to observe the law," he said. "If you want to break the law, do it in a private capacity."

Sampson added that he was perturbed about being the only person on the panel to admit to having inhaled cannabis in the past. "That is statistically improbable," he said.

Vivienne Hayes, director of the Women's Resource Centre, and Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the DSC, certainly weren't admitting to anything, despite insisting charities had a moral duty to break the law if doing so would help their beneficiaries.

Hayes said the law was there to control business and charities should have a "get-out clause". Allcock Tyler said there was no moral difference between breaking the law in a private and in a professional capacity.

Hind ended the day in mellow mood after seeing the percentage of delegates agreeing with his stance that charities should not break the law rise from 39 before the debate to 55 afterwards. "I got slaughtered at the debate on trustee payment last year," he noted victoriously.

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