The Charity Commission has found evidence of multiple failings of management and administration at a charity that provided flights for sick and terminally ill children in a vintage aeroplane, including flying without a certificate of airworthiness.
The regulator today published the report of its inquiry into the International Tiger Moth Charitable Trust, which provided flights in a Second World War Tiger Moth aeroplane and was removed from the register of charities in 2008.
The investigation was opened after the commission received a complaint alleging misuse of the charity's bank account and an allegation of at least one conviction of fraud against the operations manager, Adrian Matthews.
The commission obtained information from the Civil Aviation Authority that showed the plane did not have a valid certificate of airworthiness after 9 April 2008. Records showed that flights in the plane involving children took place on 22 and 24 October 2008.
The report says there had been "potential risks to the beneficiaries" because of the lack of a valid certificate, which also raised issues about the validity of the charity's insurance. There was no evidence, however, that this had resulted in any harm to beneficiaries, the report says.
A CRB check was made on the operations manager in May 2009, which stated he had a conviction for a "serious criminal offence" in 1991 that was now spent. It also listed a conviction for fraud.
"The inquiry could find no evidence that the trustees had actively considered the suitability of the operations manager for his role in the charity," the report says.
The inquiry found the charity's trustee board included, over a period of several years, several members of the same family. During the inquiry, the board consisted entirely of members of the same family, including Matthews' mother, father, brother, sister and aunt.
A series of problems with financial controls at the charity were also found during the investigation.
These included: the trustees allowing the operations manager to have access to the charity's funds; the mixing of personal and charitable funds; the cheque book containing a pre-signed blank cheque; and weaknesses in the financial controls of the charity relating to irregular expenses claims, which included a meal at Harvey Nichols Bar and Brasserie in Manchester.
The trustees accepted there was an error on their part in allowing Matthews to have unsupervised control of the bank account, including the cheque book, and took steps to rectify the matter, the report says.
The organisation was first registered as a charity in 2001. In 2004, it was taken off the register of charities after being removed from Companies House register for failure to submit accounts. Trustees said the charity was not operational from 2001 to 2006.
When it did resume operations in 2006, the organisation did not exist as a legal entity and was reinstated on the register of charities by mistake. When the commission recognised this mistake, it was removed again in 2008.
A statement from Matthews’ solicitor said his client was pleased the report exonerated him of any criminality.
"It is clear that Adrian contributed more to the charity than he received in return, as is recognised in the report," it said. "However, Adrian took on more and more responsibility and this led to mistakes being made, for which Adrian is truly sorry.
"Any mistakes that were made were unintentional and only serve to highlight the significant work that Adrian took on, single-handedly operating a charity of this nature and striving to provide a unique experience for as many children as possible."