The Charity Commission has told a college at the University of Oxford to enter mediation in a bid to settle a long-running dispute with its dean.
Christ Church college has been locked in a protracted battle with the Very Reverend Martyn Percy after he was suspended in November 2018 for alleged misconduct.
He returned to work in August after an internal tribunal found in his favour.
Last year, the former Conservative Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken called on the regulator to intervene after claiming that the college spent £1.6m in charitable funds on the dispute.
The commission said in a statement yesterday it was “concerned that the very protracted and public dispute between the college’s governing body and its dean is damaging to the reputation of the charity and affecting its ability to govern itself”.
The regulator said: “The situation risks harming the reputation of charity more generally in the eyes of the public.”
It said it could intervene only if relationships between all parties were stable and had therefore told them that it expected them to enter into “formal mediation within a limited timeframe, with a mediator selected by the commission and without delay”.
The college, which is registered as a charity under the name The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry VIII, had an income of £31.8m in the year to the end of July last year.
Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said it was not the regulator’s job to referee disputes.
“Our role is, instead, to ensure that charities are governed effectively, charitable funds are properly accounted for and trust in charity is maintained,” she said.
“In these exceptional circumstances, we have told the parties to the dispute to enter mediation, without which it is difficult to resolve issues in the charity in any reasonable timescale.”
The regulator said it would not comment further on the case until the mediation had been completed, and it had asked both sides in the dispute to do the same.