Charity Commission looking into CoolTan Arts after chief executive is dismissed

The mental health charity suspended chief executive Michelle Baharier in October and she was dismissed last week

The Charity Commission is looking into complaints made against the mental health charity Cooltan Arts after it sacked its founding chief executive Michelle Baharier last week.

Third Sector understands a protest against her dismissal and the way she was treated by trustees was due to take place today outside the headquarters of the Southwark-based charity, which offers arts activities for people suffering from poor mental health.

Baharier was suspended in October over concerns about allegations of bullying and harassment. She subsequently took out a grievance against the charity, which was not upheld, claiming the disciplinary process had treated her unfairly. 

The charity has now admitted she was dismissed last week, but were unable to say why in time for Third Sector's deadline.

Baharier took her grievance to employment tribunal, but it is not known how far the case has progressed.

In a letter to stakeholders, Lillian Nalumansi, the chair of the charity confirmed the sacking and said the board would now turn to the "challenging task of establishing the future direction of the charity".

"As we move forward the interests of our service users must be our focus," she said.

"The funding and commissioning environment for charities like ours has changed enormously over recent years. For several years, the management team has been grappling with the challenges created by those changes. 

"We will be working to urgently refocus the work of the charity to put it in the strongest possible position to move forward."

She said publicity by Baharier and her supporters on social media had caused concern among funders and created uncertainty for service users. The current interim chief executive Herbie Taylor is expected to continue in the role.

Support for Baharier has been expressed on a Facebook group, Twitter account and Tumblr blog under the name Save Cooltan Arts.

A post on the Facebook group confirmed Baharier’s sacking and said: "An appeal is being submitted and the legal fightback begins."

The Tumblr account announced a protest would be held today outside the charity’s offices in South East London and encouraged readers to attend, claiming Baharier had been subjected to "eight months of mental and emotional cruelty" in the run-up to her dismissal.

A member of the Facebook group posted a link to the Charity Commission’s website, encouraging other members to complain about Baharier’s sacking.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that we have an open case into CoolTan Arts and we are currently in correspondence with the trustees about our concerns and complaints made against the charity.

"At this time we are unable to provide any further information until our case has concluded."

No one from the charity or Save CoolTan Arts was available to comment.

Baharier did not respond to a request for comment.

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