The Charity Commission is looking into a charity set up to honour the memory of the engineer Sir Nigel Gresley amid a row over whether a statue of him should include a duck.
The regulator said it was examining complaints about the annual general meeting of the Gresley Society Trust, which has commissioned a statue of the steam engineer at King’s Cross station in London to mark the 75th anniversary of his death.
The initial designs for the statue included a duck at Gresley’s feet, in a nod to both his reputed love of ducks and the fact that his most famous engine, which still holds the world land speed record for a steam locomotive, was known as the Mallard.
But two of Gresley’s grandsons objected to the duck and it was removed from plans, according to pro-duck campaigners, prompting three of the charity’s trustees to resign in protest and creating a rift between the pro-duck and anti-duck members of the society.
The row has become increasingly bitter, with the charity’s chair David McIntosh reportedly describing the 2,952 people who have signed a petition to reinstate the duck as "unbalanced duck fanatics".
Pro-duck members have complained to the Charity Commission, saying the remaining trustees broke charity law at the society’s annual general meeting on 5 December during a vote to replace the three trustees who had resigned plus a further two who had stepped down for other reasons.
Libby Ranzetta, who launched the petition and who was at the meeting to represent a member of the society, told Third Sector that trustees rejected five of the six candidates nominated by the pro-duck members without a valid reason.
"They said nominations weren’t valid because they didn’t follow procedure, but it has never been made clear which procedure they did not follow and all six nominations were made in exactly the same way," she said. "They were just making up the rules as they went along."
She claims the trustees failed to alert all members to their right to vote in the AGM by proxy, which they are legally required to do, but had contacted only members they knew to be anti-duck to secure their proxy votes.
The trustees also refused to accept the 26 proxy votes collected by one pro-duck member on the basis that he had not mentioned them at the start of the meeting, she said, dismissing this argument as "complete nonsense".
A commission spokesman confirmed it had received complaints about the AGM.
"Disputes within charities are a matter for the trustees to resolve and not a matter for the commission," he said.
"However, in light of the alleged comment that the charity might have admitted the elections might have breached charity law, we have contacted the trustees to ask for their comments about the process around the elections and AGM."
The spokesman was referring to a comment in Steam Railway magazine, which reported that since the AGM Philip Benham, the society’s vice-chair, had said trustees did breach charity law in not providing advance proxy voting information and said the issue "would be remedied in the future".
No one from the Gresley Society was available for comment.