A County Londonderry health charity that provided multiple private benefits to the man who ran it from the same premises as several connected private companies has been closed down after scrutiny from the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.
The CCNI today published its report on the charity Emergency Medical Services, which had objects of relieving sickness and educating the public in first aid and resuscitation. Its main activity was training volunteers in first aid, who were then provided to various events as first-aid cover.
The charity was registered at an address in Magherafelt, County Londonderry that was also the home to four private businesses – Emergency Medical Supplies, the EMS Group, the Mid-Ulster Open Award Centre and Training As It Should Be.
All of these businesses were owned or run by Tom Gourley, who was a trustee and the officer in charge of the charity, the report says.
It says that in May 2013, the CCNI received a complaint alleging that Gourley "treated the charity as being as much under his control and direction as his own business and that, as a result, he was accruing an inappropriate private benefit".
The CCNI opened a statutory inquiry in February 2014. This found that Gourley’s businesses received rates relief of £8,725 a year as a result of sharing premises with the charity, that the charity paid the businesses £500 every four weeks to supplement wages and rent, and that Gourley sold training and equipment to the charity "without scrutiny or management of this conflict of interest".
It also found that Gourley "furthered his business interests through fostering the impression that the charity and his businesses were one and the same" and "encouraged charity volunteers to sell his business merchandise whilst engaged with the charity’s activities", the report says.
Gourley resigned as officer in charge of the charity in April, and then in June as a trustee.
Having been advised by the CCNI that they needed to end the ongoing conflicts of interest or close the charity, in June 2014 the remaining trustees opted for dissolution. This process was concluded in November, with the charity’s assets distributed to other similar charities.
The report says there were multiple failures in the charity’s governance and adherence to its constitution, including a failure to appoint a deputy officer in charge or hold adequate meetings.
It concludes that "while the charity afforded the opportunity for individuals to explore volunteering and provided valuable experience to those who may have aspired to a career in the healthcare sector, those charitable outcomes were incidental to the significant private benefit that operating the charity provided to Gourley".
The CCNI has shared it findings with HM Revenue & Customs and Land & Property Services "to allow those organisations to take any action they see fit in relation to the case", the report says.
Third Sector called the office occupied by Gourley’s businesses – and formerly by the charity – and was told that nobody would comment.