Commission opens inquiries into connected Aspinall charities

The regulator says it has begun separate statutory inquiries into the Aspinall Foundation and the Howletts Wild Animal Trust

A gorilla at the Port Lympne reserve (Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
A gorilla at the Port Lympne reserve (Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The Charity Commission has opened inquiries into two connected conservation charities amid concerns about their governance and financial management.

The regulator said it had opened separate statutory inquiries into the Aspinall Foundation and the Howletts Wild Animal Trust, which share two trustees: Damian Aspinall and his daughter Tansy.

The commission said its inquiry into the Aspinall Foundation, which promotes animal conservation and education in zoology and was set up by Damian Aspinall’s late father John, would examine the charity’s governance.

Its probe into the Howletts Wild Animal Trust, which has a similar mission but also runs the Howletts and Port Lympne animal parks, both in Kent, will look into concerns about related-party transactions.

The regulator said in a statement: “We have today announced two new statutory inquiries, into the Aspinall Foundation and the Howletts Wild Animal Trust.

“The respective charities have trustees in common [Damian and Tansy Aspinall], but are separate entities, and are subject to separate investigations.”

The commission began examining the Aspinall Foundation in July over concerns about the management of conflicts of interest and related-party transactions.

The regulator said: “The trustees have been fully co-operating with the commission. Since that time, the regulator has identified further questions regarding the charity’s governance, and it will now examine all these issues as part of a formal statutory inquiry.”

A similar statement about the Howletts Wild Animal Trust said: “The regulator began looking into the charity in December 2019 due to concerns about management of conflicts of interest and a related-party transaction. The trustees have co-operated fully with the commission since it first engaged with them last year.

“The commission still has concerns about related-party transactions, meaning that it is now necessary to examine these issues as part of a formal statutory inquiry.”

A spokesperson for the charities said: “Our trustees will continue to work openly and transparently with the Charity Commission to ensure best practice governance and compliance.”

The spokesperson said no further comment would be issued until the investigation was completed.

Carrie Symonds, the former Conservative Party communications director and fiancée of Boris Johnson, joined the Aspinall Foundation as head of communications earlier this year.

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