Disaster relief charity has 'full confidence' in chief executive after abusive behaviour inquiry

The trustees of the disaster relief charity Team Rubicon UK have expressed “full confidence” in the organisation’s chief executive after an inquiry examined claims of drunken and verbally abusive behaviour at a leadership event.

In a statement, Team Rubicon UK’s trustees said Richard Sharp would continue to lead the charity, although he is understood to have been handed a final written warning. 

A report on the charity’s website details an inquiry into Sharp’s behaviour during a five-day event for Team Rubicon members across the world at a YMCA retreat in the Colorado Rocky Mountains last summer.

The Charity Commission said it had been made aware of the incident and was satisfied with the charity’s response, but was continuing to engage with the charity after new information came to light.

The charity’s inquiry, carried out by three trustees, found that Sharp, an army veteran who had served in Afghanistan, was “verbally abusive while under the influence of alcohol” during the event.

The report says that, according to witnesses, he had become aggressive, calling a female volunteer “a snowflake” and “an ungrateful prick” when she challenged an account of his military service he had given earlier in the evening. 

Witnesses said Sharp had also told the volunteer she should be thanking him “for all the people I killed in the Middle East”, according to the report.

The report says: “All of the witnesses recall Mr S as having used the word ‘c***’ but there are differences in recollection as to whether this was directed at anyone in particular.”

There were also two allegations of sexual harassment, which Sharp denied and were rejected by the inquiry.

The charity has sister organisations in the US, Canada, Australia and Norway. The inquiry was told that the leaders of the US organisation had provided “excessive quantities of alcohol” and it was “very likely” that charitable funds from the US charity had been “misapplied” in order to do so.

The report says there was “considerable pressure to drink” and “public humiliation of those who did not” from the US charity leadership.

In the report, the inquiry panel notes the “limitations” of the evidence available and implies that it found it difficult to piece together a coherent picture of events because of the consumption of alcohol by many of the witnesses.

In a statement, the trustees told Third Sector the incident had been “fully investigated over several months through an independent inquiry”. 

The statement said Sharp “has the full confidence of the board and will continue to lead TR’s projects in the UK”.

It added: “Richard fully acknowledges and has openly expressed his deep regret for his behaviour at the event, and he has communicated this candidly and transparently to staff and volunteers.”

It said that during the investigation Nick Parker, chair of the charity, had “received an unsolicited letter of support” for Sharp, signed by all female members of staff.

It added that the charity took safeguarding “very seriously” and had robust reporting and investigating procedures.

The charity reported the incident to the Charity Commission in November. 

A commission spokesman said: “At the time we were satisfied that the charity was taking steps to handle the matter responsibly via a number of measures, including an investigation into the incident.

“New information has recently been submitted by the charity and we will continue to engage on these matters. We cannot comment further at this time.”

The incident seems to have inflamed tensions between the different national charities. Team Rubicon US, the original charity, has launched a court case, seeking to deny Team Rubicon Global, a body comprising all the other national branches, the right to use its name and has cited the incident involving Sharp in its case.

A statement on Team Rubicon UK’s website says the charity plans to rebrand.

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