The Charity Commission has criticised the trustees of a village hall charity in Yorkshire for their decision not to suspend the chair after he was charged with and subsequently convicted for child sex offences.
The commission’s report on its operational compliance case involving Holme-on-Spalding Moor Village Hall, published today, says it became aware that the village hall’s chair of trustees had been charged with offences relating to sexual assault against a child. This did not relate to his role at the charity, the commission’s report says.
The chair is not named in the report, but the charity’s annual report for 2013/14 says that Christopher Worrall was its chair, and local media reported that he was given a seven-year prison sentence for child sex offences in July 2014.
The regulator opened an operational compliance case on the charity in March last year and questioned the trustees about the matter. The trustees had not made a serious incident report about the issue.
The trustees responded that the chair had not told the other trustees about the allegations against him when he was appointed, but said that when they became aware of the charges, they voted not to exclude him as a trustee.
The report says: "We were not satisfied that the trustees had considered the seriousness of the situation or dealt with the matter appropriately, including considering suspending the trustee pending the outcome of the criminal investigation by the police. While due process had to take its course, not acting was potentially placing other beneficiaries at risk. We were also concerned that a conflict of interest relating to the position of the accused was not being appropriately managed."
Bethany Jenkins, the new chair of the charity, told Third Sector that the chair did not stand for re-election at the organisation's annual general meeting in May last year.
Later that summer, the former chair was convicted and jailed for seven years, after admitting two offences of sexual activity with a child and two of meeting a child after sexual grooming, according to the report.
Jenkins said the trustees had been told by the chair that the allegations were baseless. "We acted in good faith," she said. "None of the incidents had anything to do with the village hall itself."
The commission closed the case after the trustees promised to improve the charity's safeguarding policy. They have also been told by the commission to implement a formal conflicts of interest policy.
The commission has published a separate operational compliance case report today on Light of Life (UK) Trust, an education and health charity set up to work in Bangladesh. The commission was contacted by a shopkeeper who said the charity had sent her a letter saying it had been given permission to fundraise in her shop, despite her not having done so.
The report says the commission found it difficult to contact the charity’s trustees, arrange a meeting or identify what charitable activity the charity had carried out, and found its accounts were not Sorp-compliant. Eventually, the charity’s trustees "decided that they did not have the capacity to run the charity in line with legal requirements". It was wound up and removed from the register in April last year.
The commission’s decision to look into the charity was prompted by the fact that its registration application in 2011 had, the report says, "been submitted by a firm that has since made applications on behalf of charities that have been the cause of regulatory concern". Asked whether the commission had followed up its concerns about that advisory firm, or referred them to any other agency, a spokeswoman for the commission said the regulator was not immediately able to comment.