The controversy surrounding the charity The Atlantic Bridge has shown the Charity Commission to be "wishy washy" and not sufficiently transparent, according to Geraldine Peacock, the regulator’s former chair.
Peacock, who chaired the commission from 2004 until 2006, told Third Sector that the regulator’s investigation into the charity – which was founded by the former defence secretary Liam Fox and run by his associate Adam Werritty – raised a number of concerns.
After the investigation, which closed in July 2010, the commission ruled that Atlantic Bridge’s "current activities must cease immediately" because the charity promoted a political stance that was closely associated with the Conservative Party.
According to Peacock, the investigation was not thorough enough and should be reopened. "Atlantic Bridge is an example of when the Charity Commission doesn’t do itself any favours," she said. "It should have done what it is supposed to do, which is to investigate all aspects of a complaint. It didn’t do that."
Peacock said several questions remained unanswered, particularly the issue of which charity Atlantic Bridge transferred its remaining resources to when it was wound up in September this year.
"Why is there this mystery about where the money went from Atlantic Bridge?" she said. "Why is it a secret? It shouldn’t be; it should be transparent."
She said the commission should reopen the investigation so that it could find out more about how the charity’s money was spent.
"The commission chose not to use its statutory powers in this case and, when it does that, it ends up skimming across the top of the issues," she said. "When this happens in a big case like this, people lose confidence in the regulator. It will become a moribund regulator if this continues."
The Charity Commission declined to discuss Peacock’s comments, but issued a statement that said: "Based on the information and circumstances at the time, including that the trustees were fully cooperating with us, we concluded that the matter was sufficiently serious to need further examination and an investigation was opened in the form of a regulatory compliance case.
"If any additional information came to light during the case that warranted opening a statutory inquiry, we could have done so immediately."