Two men associated with the ethnic English charity the Steadfast Trust have been arrested and bailed on suspicion of fraud as a result of undercover footage obtained for a documentary about extremism in charities that is due to be broadcast tonight.
The Steadfast Trust, which describes itself as benefiting "indigenous" English people, has also been removed from the register of charities after the covert footage from the ITV Exposure documentary, called Charities Behaving Badly, was shared with the Charity Commission.
Steadfast is one of three charities that will be featured in the programme, which was produced by the company Hardcash.
A spokeswoman for Metropolitan Police confirmed that the National Terrorism Financial Investigation unit arrested two men on suspicion of fraud on 22 January.
"A 66-year-old was arrested at his home address in Ashford, Kent, and taken to a police station in Kent, and a second man, 32, was arrested when he attended a police station in Suffolk," she said. "Both have since been bailed to a date in May pending further enquiries."
A statement on the Steadfast Trust’s website confirmed that the charity was subject to a fraud investigation and that the police were scrutinising its accounts and contacting donors.
"We are cooperating fully with the police and we assure friends of the trust that we haven’t knowingly committed an unlawful act," said the statement. "We believe the investigation is occurring following undercover footage obtained by a reporter in 2014 both at events and within the property of a Steadfast trustee. As a result of this footage and the subsequent police investigation, we have suspended a trustee whilst we undertake an internal investigation."
The charity told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that the suspended trustee was Tim Hawke and that a supporter, Darren Clarke, had also been suspended from its list of supporters.
Nobody from the organisation was available for comment on Wednesday morning.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said in a statement: "The footage of covert filming that the commission has seen is shocking – some of what we saw was so serious it was clearly a matter for the police."
The Steadfast Trust, which was registered as a charity in September 2004, was removed from the register on 12 February because it was "registered in error", according to the commission’s website.
The commission spokeswoman said this happened because it was not clear that that the trust’s beneficiaries, described as "members of the Anglo-Saxon community living in England", could be identified or were a sufficient section of the public, as required in charity law. "As the trust’s purposes are not for the public benefit, the trust is not a charity," she added.
A statement released by ITV before the broadcast said evidence of extreme right-wing activism had been found in one of the charities featured. Footage of the documentary shows 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.
ITV said in its statement that another of the charities featured was involved in teaching schoolchildren that a conspiracy against Hinduism exists among Christians and that "if it comes to Islam, they are the world’s worst religion".
A spokesman for the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh UK confirmed that the charity had been filmed for the programme and that it had been unaware of this at the time. He told Third Sector that the charity had not seen the footage yet. "We haven’t been privy to the programme at all, so we can’t make any comment on what’s going to be broadcast," he said.
Third Sector revealed on Monday that a trustee had resigned from the third charity due to be featured in the programme, the Global Aid Trust. Rizwan Hussain, who was also acting chief executive at the Muslim education charity, confirmed that he had stepped down from both roles in connection with the documentary.