Charity Commission criticises charity trustees over handling of sex offence allegations against chief executive

Zafar Iqbal, head of Southwark Muslim Women's Association, has since been jailed for offences committed in the 1970s and 1980s

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission has criticised the trustees of a London community charity over the way they handled allegations of historic sex offences by its chief executive.

Last month Zafar Iqbal, the head of the Southwark Muslim Women’s Association, was jailed for seven and a half years for multiple sexual offences committed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Southwark Council, the major funder of the SMWA, has since said that it is likely to withdraw all of its funding to the charity, which means that it is likely close, according to the commission’s operational compliance report into the charity, published yesterday.

In the year ending 31 March 2013, the charity received £175,415 from the council – almost three quarters of its total income, its accounts show.

The commission's report says that Iqbal’s conviction was not reported to the regulator as a serious incident as should have happened under standard commission policy. "This was a cause for concern, and we needed to assure ourselves that the charity had safeguarding policies in place," the report says.

The commission therefore opened an operational monitoring compliance case into the charity and, at a meeting with its trustees, was told how the charity had dealt with the allegations and conviction.

Although Iqbal was suspended by the charity during the police investigation, he still held responsibility for submitting its 2013 annual return – a conflict of interest, because this is where the charity should have reported Iqbal’s arrest as a serious incident, the report says.

The trustees also told the commission that Iqbal "had been in constant attendance at trustee meetings, which should not have been allowed", the report says. "Staff may be invited to trustee meetings on occasion, but must not be in constant attendance," it says.

It also says that Iqbal did not have the up-to-date Criminal Records Bureau checks stipulated by the charity’s safeguarding policy.

The trustees cooperated with the commission throughout their compliance case and "are now fully aware of the mistakes that have been made", the report says.

The report says: "We have recently been informed that Southwark Council has recommended the withdrawal of funding to the charity and this is likely to result in its closure."

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