Take Buckfast Abbey Trust off charity register, says National Secular Society

In a letter to the Charity Commission, the NSS says the abbey's failure to act to prevent irresponsible drinking of the tonic wine it produces undermines its public benefit

Buckfast Abbey
Buckfast Abbey

The Charity Commission will be contacting the Buckfast Abbey Trust to discuss calls by the National Secular Society to strip the abbey of its charitable status because of the tonic wine it produces.

A letter of complaint that the NSS said it intended to send to the commission’s legal director Kenneth Dibble today says the charity’s failure to act to curb irresponsible drinking of its wine undermined its public benefit.

The trust supports and maintains the order of Benedictine monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon who have produced Buckfast Tonic Wine since 1927.

The trust has a 32.4 per cent share through its trading subsidiary in J Chandler & Co. (Buckfast) a company that bottles and markets the wine under licence: the charity receives royalties and rents from the company. Two of its trustees and its finance director sit on the board of the company, but do not receive remuneration.

The caffeinated tonic wine has achieved notoriety in recent years because police in Scotland have linked it to violent crimes and anti-social behaviour.

Last year, the charity’s trading subsidiary, Dart Abbey Enterprises, made a profit of £1.4m after tax, according to the charity’s annual report for the year to 31 October 2015. Activities included the wine manufacture, but also catering, retail sales, provision of tourist and conference facilities and property development.

In its letter to the commission, the NSS says it believes it is "undeniable" that the wine causes public harm and the charity is in a very strong position to influence the company to change its sales strategy.

A spokesman for the NSS said: "Charitable status and the accompanying tax benefits should be granted only to religious organisations that deliver a demonstrable public benefit."

He added: "Where the good is simply not good enough, public confidence in supporting charities risks being undermined."

A commission spokeswoman said the regulator took all concerns raised about registered charities seriously.

She said: "We will be contacting the Buckfast Abbey Trust to seek further information about concerns raised about the governance of the charity and to determine whether there is a regulatory role for the commission."

No one from the trust responded to Third Sector’s request for comment before the deadline.

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