Former Versus Arthritis trustee ‘disappointed’ over statements made about his resignation

Ian Walters tells Third Sector he resigned in protest against the board’s 'failure and unwillingness to exercise its responsibilities' in filing a serious incident report

A former trustee of Versus Arthritis was “surprised and disappointed” to read statements made by the charity about his resignation and said he wanted to clarify his reasons for stepping down. 

The charity last week filed a serious incident report to the Charity Commission over multiple allegations of systemic racism and bullying. 

According to an email seen by Third Sector, trustees took the decision in light of the accounts of systemic racism and racially motivated microaggressions that were shared by employees during an open company meeting in July and in the weeks that followed. 

The email also outlined steps taken to address issues with systemic racism at the charity, including the provision of a confidential helpline, training for senior management and the recruitment of a head of diversity and inclusion. 

In the same email, Walters was said to have resigned from the charity because of a difference of opinion about how the decision to make a serious incident report to the regulator was made, and the scope of the report. 

The email continued that although the Charity Commission provided “guidance on what to report, and when”, it was a decision for the board of trustees to decide whether to wait until everything has been investigated before making a report. 

“Whilst the work to respond to complaints and work to become anti-racist is going on, trustees felt it was right to flag this to the regulator now and commit to giving them updates on our progress,” the email said.

But Walters told Third Sector he was disappointed by the statement and a subsequent comment from Ellen Miller, the charity’s deputy chief executive, who last week said the charity was sad that he did not feel comfortable with the approach being taken by the board”.

Walters said: “I am sorry to say I am disappointed with the statements relating to my resignation, which could be taken to imply that I was disappointed with a range of actions taken by the trustees. 

“The fact that trustees made a report to the Charity Commission is something I had been arguing for, for almost three months. I am certainly not disappointed with the decision to report, or uncomfortable with it, or other actions that have been taken. 

“The real reason I resigned – and I want to make this absolutely clear, on the record – was because of the board of trustees’ failure and unwillingness to exercise its responsibilities and fully comply with the regulator’s requirements for reporting serious incidents.” 

Walters said that the commission’s website made clear that “the reporting of serious incidents should be full, frank and prompt”, and that a report should be submitted as soon as a charity becomes aware of a serious incident.  

He said he had been arguing that a serious incident report should be filed since 8 July, after a company meeting revealed multiple employee experiences of racism, racially led microaggressions and bullying at the charity. 

“As of the date of my resignation on 13 October, a serious incident report had not been submitted and trustees were still debating whether to report or not,” Walters said. 

In an email sent by Walters to the chair of the board of trustees at Versus Arthritis on 13 October, and seen by Third Sector, he wrote that he was resigning with immediate effect as a consequence of “the board of trustees’ failure and indeed unwillingness to exercise its responsibilities and fully comply with the regulator’s requirements for reporting serious incidents”. 

In the email, Walters added he had been “on the point of writing in these terms for almost three months”, but had held off in the hope of persuading the board to comply. 

He added that a failure to fully report “seldom works and usually comes back to bite those who do it very hard, as charities, churches and many other organisations have found

Miller said she wanted to reiterate her “high regard and appreciation for everything Ian has done for the charity”. 

She added: “I think this has been a difficult decision for Ian, and he has taken a consistent and principled approach.” 

Miller said the guidance from the commission on serious incident reporting “is trying to cover so many unique situations, and inevitably there is some level of ambiguity over what constitutes a serious incident, and what you should include in a report”.

She said trustees had “seriously debated” what should be included in the serious incident report, and that there was a range of views about what should and should not be included. 

“That is the point where there was a difference,” said Miller. 

She said Versus Arthritis had sought to be open and honest with its staff about the situation.

“We are really keen to make sure there is proper investigation of any allegations," Miller said. "We are so sad that anybody would be made to feel uncomfortable, not included or badly treated within our charity. That is not in line with our values at all.” 

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