Bennett legal wrangles near end

Anita Pati

A series of complex disputes involving Diabetes UK, the Diabetes Foundation and the Charity Commission could be reaching a conclusion this summer.

The organisations are locked in separate legal battles with retired banker Arthur Bennett that have spanned 10 years and cost thousands of pounds.

A High Court hearing on 31 August will deal with a charging order on Bennett's house made in relation to more than £700,000 of unpaid costs awarded to Diabetes UK in 1995. The order was made when the charity (then known as the British Diabetic Association) won a case against Bennett.

Bennett left the BDA in the 1980s because he was unhappy with its operations.

When he set up the Diabetes Foundation in 1989, the BDA successfully sued him, saying the name was too similar and would confuse people.

The 31 August case will deal with an application from Bennett to have the resulting charge on his house removed. The charity is seeking to have it enforced.

Penny Mordaunt, director of nations, regions and campaigns at Diabetes UK, said: "We've thought about the consequences to him and his daughter, but we have a moral duty to our membership and to others with diabetes, and we have a legal obligation under the Charities Act to recoup as much money as we can."

In a separate case, the Diabetes Foundation is also seeking unpaid court costs from Bennett. In 1997 a Charity Commission investigation concluded that foundation funds had been diverted into a personal bank account. Bennett was barred from being a trustee.

Last year he launched proceedings against the foundation to recover money.

The High Court dismissed both claims in March this year and Bennett is now liable for at least £15,000 of legal costs.

Judith Rich, chairwoman of the foundation, said: "Because there was no legal basis for the claims, the Diabetes Foundation advised him to withdraw them, but he refused." The foundation would be able to recover some of the costs through insurance, she said.

A commission spokesman said it was also trying to recover charitable funds after Bennett took action to unfreeze assets. The commission froze bank accounts related to Bennett's new fundraising organisation, Diabetes Help, in 2001 after an investigation concluded Bennett was unable to account for funds donated to help people with diabetes. In 2003 he was convicted of fraudulent trading and acting as a trustee while disqualified.

Bennett said: "Diabetes UK is using the public's charitable donations to make us homeless and it is paying approximately £500 an hour to do it. It's rather unsatisfactory for a diabetes organisation to make people who suffer from the same affliction homeless."

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