Charity tribunal rejects disqualification appeal from former church pastor

Martin Phelps was banned from being a charity trustee for 10 years after the regulator concluded he had used charitable funds for foreign trips that did not appear to be for charitable ends

The former Rhema website
The former Rhema website

The charity tribunal has rejected an application to overturn a decision by the Charity Commission to disqualify the pastor of a Christian church from being a charity trustee.

Martin Phelps, the former leader of Rhema Church London, was disqualified from being a charity trustee or senior manager for 10 years after the regulator concluded that he had used charitable funds for foreign trips with little evidence they were for a charitable purpose and misused the charity’s credit card.

The commission opened a statutory inquiry into the south-London based Christian charity in 2015, amid concerns that almost £280,000 of charitable funds might have been misapplied.

The regulator subsequently appointed an interim manager to run the charity, who decided in July 2017 to suspend and ultimately dismiss Phelps from his post.

In January 2019, the commission disqualified Phelps from being a trustee or senior manager at any charity in England or Wales for 10 years.

Documents released last week by the charity tribunal show that an appeal by Phelps to overturn that disqualification had failed.

The tribunal’s ruling shows he argued that there had not been any wrongdoing, misconduct or mismanagement on his part.

But the judgment says Phelps ignored specific instructions from the interim manager to not make any unauthorised use of the charity’s credit cards and there was "considerable doubt, on the evidence, that a number of overseas trips led by the appellant to Italy, Austria, France and Greece were for a charitable purpose".

The tribunal also concluded that Phelps had encouraged members of the charity to attend a church meeting in breach of an employment suspension and denied inspectors access to all parts of the charity’s property, in defiance of a court injunction.

The charity’s interim manager announced in May that he was winding up the charity and would pass any remaining funds to a charity with similar objects.

Amy Spiller, head of the investigations team at the Charity Commission, said: "The decision supports our conclusion that the actions of Mr Phelps, while in his role as pastor at the church, amounted to misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the charity, and have shown him unfit to be a charity trustee and to hold a senior position within a charity.

"Through his actions, this individual let the charity and its supporters down and put wider public trust in charity at risk."

The commission’s inquiry into the charity continues.

Members of the church wrote to the commission in 2017 to complain about the costs and length of time it was taking the interim manager to conclude his investigations into the charity.

Third Sector was unable to contact Phelps for comment.

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