The Charity Commission has protested to The Daily Telegraph newspaper over its reporting of remarks by the commission chair, William Shawcross, about donations for humanitarian relief in Syria going to extremist groups.
The Telegraph reported that the Disasters Emergency Committee, the umbrella organisation of 14 international aid charities, had raised £20m since launching its Syria Crisis Appeal in March and quoted Shawcross saying: "A lot of money is raised that goes to Syria – some of it undoubtedly goes to terrorist groups."
The headline on the story said "Charity millions ‘going to Syrian terror groups'", and the first paragraph read "People giving money to help millions of refugees from the civil war in Syria are inadvertently supporting terrorism, the charity watchdog has warned."
The commission responded with a statement from Shawcross saying: "The Daily Telegraph’s suggestion that ‘millions’ are being diverted from well-known charities to fund terror groups is speculative and certainly does not represent what we know.
"I can reassure donors that known cases of terrorist abuse of charity funds are very low and that we will vigorously pursue any such allegations"
A letter from Shawcross to the Telegraph said: "Such reporting could undermine the efforts made by charities to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people in war-torn areas like Syria."
The DEC issued a statement saying the Telegraph headline was untrue. "There is no evidence that any funds from the £20m DEC Syria Crisis Appeal has been used to support armed groups in Syria.
The DEC chief executive, Saleh Saeed, said: "We are truly appalled that this story could mislead the British public who have been so generous in supporting our appeal, and we are concerned that it might place the lives of aid workers in Syria at risk," it said.
The statement added:"It is never possible to entirely eliminate such risks if you wish to help those in greatest need, but DEC members take all reasonable steps to avoid, uncover and minimise such losses."
A spokeswoman for the commission said Shawcross’s remark had been made at the commission’s recent annual public meeting, but had been taken out of context in the way that it was linked with the millions raised by the DEC.