The Charity Tribunal for Northern Ireland will consider appeals against the removal of a trustee and the suspension of the chief executive and three other trustees from the Disabled Police Officers Association of Northern Ireland.
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland opened its inquiry into the DPOANI in February 2014 amid concerns about its governance and financial controls.
Orders on the CCNI website show that in August it suspended two trustees, William Allen and Robert Crawford, and the chief executive, Elaine Hampton, from their roles at the DPOANI. The commission has since appointed five new trustees and an interim manager operating to the exclusion of the charity’s trustees. Crawford was removed as a trustee on 22 January and the commission has published a notice saying it intends to remove Allen.
In addition, Third Sector has learned, two other trustees – Gordon Knowles and Stephen McAlister – were suspended from the charity, although this was not publicised on the CCNI website.
A spokeswoman for the regulator would not say why it had chosen not to publicise these suspensions. "The commission has discretion on whether or not it publishes orders to suspend charity trustees," she said. These two suspensions have since elapsed.
Crawford told Third Sector he had lodged a total of 11 appeals against various decisions taken by the commission, including the original suspensions of himself and his four colleagues, and that he planned to file further appeals including against his removal this week.
He said that dates for these appeals to be heard had not yet been set, but he understood they were likely to be after Easter.
Crawford said he understood that a major concern for the CCNI was the management of a conflict of interest, given that he and Hampton had been in a relationship until last year. He said this conflict of interest was always managed appropriately and the commission "has declined to provide me with any details of the allegations made against me".
He also criticised the fact that the statutory inquiry had put a stop to the DPOANI’s work. He said: "No charity activities have occurred for more than six months as a result of the commission’s actions and, despite the appointment of an interim manager in October 2014, none have been planned by him or the commission’s appointees."
The CCNI spokeswoman said: "At present, the commission is opposing the appeals. However, the commission will continue to consider its position, and that of the charity, throughout the course of its inquiry." The spokeswoman did not respond directly to the suggestion that its activity had curtailed the charity’s work.
Responding to Crawford’s other complaint, she said there was a tribunal document that recorded as a finding of fact that the commission had provided Crawford with "a clear statement of the reasons as to why the respondent [the CCNI] decided to institute a statutory inquiry".
The tribunal document relates to Crawford’s application, made in November, for the tribunal allow him extra time to appeal against the statutory inquiry. This application was rejected in December, but the document was published only last week, after the tribunal considered whether the fact that it had understood the DPOANI was an unincorporated association – it is in fact a company limited by guarantee – had affected that decision. It decided in January that it had not.