Disability charity reports service users' action group to the police

Ripon Community Link has also contacted the Information Commissioner's Office about the action group, which was set up after the charity abruptly reduced its services

A disability charity has reported an action group set up by relatives of concerned service users to the police.

Ripon Community Link has also contacted the Information Commissioner's Office and solicitors, who have written to the chair of the group asking him to "cease making defamatory comments".

Last month, the North Yorkshire charity withdrew support with less than two weeks’ notice for 12 service users and laid off a dozen staff, which it said was necessary to secure its financial future.

Shortly afterwards the Charity Commission opened a regulatory compliance case on the organisation's financial management and the trustees’ handling of the withdrawal of services.

Some relatives of service users, who are unhappy about the direction of the charity, formed Ripon Community Link & Ripon Walled Garden Action Group last month.

The group has called for the board of trustees and the interim chief executive, Victoria Ashley, to resign.

In letters to the charity seen by Third Sector, the group says it has no confidence in the management and claims the charity's 28-year-old constitution is "no longer considered best practice".

The group wrote to parents and carers shortly after staff were laid off alleging the charity was at risk of closure.

Nigel Hirst, the group's chairman, received a letter dated 7 August from Leeds law firm Wrigleys claiming this was "erroneous" and had "caused considerable upset and concern to existing members accessing the services of the charity". Service users are also known as members.

Wrigleys' letter said the charity had contacted the ICO because the charity was unsure how the group had got hold of service users' home addresses and this was therefore a "reportable data breach".

It said it had advised the charity to contact the police about "hateful social media posts" on Facebook.

Shortly afterwards Hirst, the parent of a disabled service user, was visited by police. So far no charges have been brought, says Hirst.

In a statement to Third Sector, the action group claimed it had sent the letter to people it knew personally in response to legitimate concerns about the charity's future.

It said the Facebook comments appeared on a private account and were "taken out of context".

A  spokesman for Ripon Community Link said its action against the group was "unprecedented and regrettable", but added: "We have been compelled to take it to protect the reputation of the charity from malicious falsehoods."

The spokesman added: "The charity has significant concerns about the behaviour of the group, which has resulted directly in upsetting members and undermining the future of the charity and the new chair and interim chief executive.

"The whole process has been difficult and caused distress to many, especially those who will no longer be supported with us. Why couldn’t the group – some of whom still have members attending – put all their energy and efforts into supporting us, fundraising for us, harnessing all of this to make it a success, rather than cause damage, especially as they have children who still attend.

"We have a responsibility to protect the charity’s reputation, follow our legal and regulatory duties and protect staff and members."

The spokesman, who declined to say how much the charity had spent on legal fees, said the group had rejected its offer of meetings.

The group said it had been told the information it had requested to see would not be available if the two parties met and therefore a meeting would "not yield any answers and would incur pointless legal costs to our charity".

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council, which is the charity's main funder, said the charity was on its approved-provider list for daytime support.

He added: "We are working with them to understand their future plans and sustainability.

"We are aware of the referral to the Charity Commission and will consider any findings when they are published." 

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