New Charity Commission chair quits before taking up role amid claims of inappropriate conduct

Martin Thomas has been the subject of three complaints while chair of the charity Women for Women International

Martin Thomas

The next chair of the Charity Commission has resigned before starting in the post after it emerged a women’s charity he previously chaired had decided to ask him to step down after investigating three formal complaints into his conduct. 

The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit organisation that uses the law to protect the interests of the public, yesterday wrote to Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, saying that Martin Thomas, who was only appointed to the role last week, had been the subject of three complaints while chair of Women for Women International, which supports female survivors of war. 

The letter asks Dorries to withdraw Thomas’s nomination to the role because of concerns about his suitability for the position and raises questions about connections to Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister. 

But the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport confirmed that Thomas had resigned from the position, which he was not due to take up until 27 December. 

The GLP said three formal complaints were made about Thomas at Women for Women International, between 2018 and 2021. 

The GLP says the first complaint, made in October 2018, concerned Thomas sending an unsolicited photograph of him standing in a lingerie store next to a scantily-clad mannequin. 

The project said Thomas had intended to send the image to one female employee but accidentally sent it to another and then asked her to forward it to the intended recipient, who was also female. 

The Times newspaper reported that Thomas said: “I apologised immediately and the apology was accepted.”

Trustees investigated the complaint but found Thomas had not broken its code of conduct. 

The following year, another complaint about Thomas’s conduct towards a different employee was made but he was cleared of any wrongdoing, the newspaper said. 

A third complaint was made in March this year about an allegedly aggressive way Thomas dealt with an employee during a phone call.  

The charity called in a third party investigator and although the complaint was only partly upheld, the GLP’s letter says the board of Women for Women International decided to ask Thomas to step down with immediate effect but he resigned before they could do so. 

It resulted in the charity filing a serious incident report with the Charity Commission. 

Women For Women International said in a statement to The Times: “The investigation concluded that the chair’s actions were not deliberate bullying but that the complaint was partly upheld insofar as aspects of the chair’s conduct were judged to have been inappropriate. In view of this, the board concluded that it would be appropriate to ask that he step down as chair with immediate effect.”

But Thomas resigned before they could do so.

Women For Women International said: “In relation to two other alleged incidents in 2018 and 2019, we carefully examined whether these could have constituted any breach of our trustee code of conduct and concluded that they did not.”

Thomas told The Times he had made “an error of judgment on a technical omission during the application process” and said he “did not wilfully mislead anyone at any time”.

He said: “In my role overseeing 14 charities during a 30-year career, I have had to make tough decisions which sometimes can make me unpopular. These decisions can often relate to improving transparency and the return on investment, including for the taxpayer.

“There will always be people in the charity sector who resist that challenge. I have never deliberately set out to offend anyone and my passion to improve the sector is borne out of a desire to do public good.”

The GLP letter also asks Dorries to confirm that Thomas is a “longstanding acquaintance or friend” of Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and that they studied classics at Oxford University at the same time. 

Thomas is also a trustee of the Down syndrome charity Downside Up, of which Johnson is a patron. 

City Hall records show that Thomas, who appeared to be acting as a representative of Downside Up, gave Johnson an antique Russian Takema watch when he was Mayor of London. 

The letter also asks whether Johnson or his staff or advisers played any role in Thomas’s appointment. 

A DCMS spokesperson said: "We accept the resignation of Martin Thomas as chair of the Charity Commission. 

“Martin has acknowledged his error of judgement during the application process and we acknowledge that he entered the process in good faith, without looking to mislead.

“All due process was followed in the search for a chair. We will now take steps to appoint a new Charity Commission chair and will provide an update in due course."

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