Plymouth Brethren member clarifies evidence he gave to MPs

Some of the words Garth Christie attributed to a letter from Kenneth Dibble (pictured) at the Charity Commission to the Preston Down Trust came from a hearing five years ago

Kenneth Dibble
Kenneth Dibble

A member of the Plymouth Brethren has said he will clarify evidence he gave about the Charity Commission to MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee.

Garth Christie, a member of the Brethren from Leeds, last month read to the committee what he said was a quotation from a letter sent by the commission to lawyers acting for the Preston Down Trust, which runs a Brethren meeting hall in Devon. The letter said its application for charitable status had been refused.

The commission has sent the full text of the letter to the select committee to draw attention to the fact that the last three sentences read out by Christie were not in it.

It has also drawn attention to the fact that the first sentence was presented by Christie as if it referred to the Preston Down decision, when in fact it referred to the decision of the Upper Tribunal in last year’s case about fee-charging schools and public benefit.

Christie told Third Sector: "It was clear in my draft that it was two quotes, but I accept it does come over as one. When I submit the revised transcript to the PASC I will make it clear that this was two separate quotes and I will give the source. If there’s any other confusion I will be making it clear – there was no intention at all to mislead."

A spokeswoman for the select committee said any further information from Christie would be considered by the members and was likely to be published as further written evidence. An explanatory footnote could be added to the transcript of the hearing, but the record itself could not be changed, she said, except for errors of spelling or punctuation.

Christie told the committee on 30 October: "Could I just read out to you what was included in the refusal letter we got from Kenneth Dibble. This was the letter when our charitable status test case was refused. He says: ‘This decision makes it clear that there was no presumption that religion generally, or at any more specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England. The case law on religion is rather ambiguous. Our view is that the definition is rather dated. It is our job to define it adequately.’"

The last three sentences were drawn from remarks Dibble made to a hearing of the committee in 2007: "A definition of charity as interpreted from the case law, which the commission in its decision on Scientology pointed up, was rather ambiguous and dated and did not really relate very effectively to the multicultural, multi-religious society which we are in today, where many religions are regarded as perfectly acceptable.

"Our view that that definition is rather dated and that there are issues about the language being used, which do not automatically apply to some quite major religions. Quite clearly, religion is accepted as a charitable purpose; it is our job to define it adequately and to define the public benefit to go with it."

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