Resign quickly if you must ensure your charity's solvency, Kids Company board member warns trustees

Vincent O'Brien was giving evidence at the High Court as part of disqualification proceedings against him and other former trustees

A former trustee at defunct charity Kids Company advised his 900,000 peers across the sector to resign if it is assumed they must ensure the solvency of their charities.

Vincent O’Brien, who had been a trustee at the charity since 2007, was being cross-examined by defence teams at the High Court yesterday in a session littered with talk of rock stars, a Star Trek comparison, and a quote from a satirical anti-war novel Catch-22.

The Official Receiver is seeking to secure disqualification from senior positions for periods of up to six years against O’Brien and six other trustees, plus former chief executive Batmanghelidjh, after the charity collapsed in August 2015.

O’Brien, a chartered accountant and former private equity firm director, had been chair of the finance committee at Kids Company until his resignation five months before the charity collapsed.

George Bompas QC, of 4 Stone Buildings, and acting on behalf of the former trustees Richard Handover, Francesca Robinson and Alan Yentob, asked O’Brien about how he understood his obligations at the charity.

Bompas questioned allegations put to O'Brien by Lesley Anderson, acting on behalf of the OR, in his previous day’s evidence that he “watered down” a finance committee document to “mitigate the rigour of what was already there”.

It is a charge previously leveled at Handover during his testimony.

O’Brien said he stood by those amendments before Bompas asked him whether he ever doubted his role as a trustee.

“I didn't really because I felt quite strong about those changes, and just feel common sense has to apply here.

“If trustees have an absolute right to ensure the solvency of their charities then I would tell 900,000 of them to resign now and get away quickly, it patently can't be right.”

Earlier Bompas asked whether O’Brien had ever been asked if there was a single decision in his life he wished he could change.

“Not while I’m sitting in the witness box of a courtroom,” he replied.

Bompas made a point that one trustee from the charity who retired before legal proceedings was not asked to appear, so he rephrased his question.

“If you were asked, would that decision be that you stayed on a trustee?”

O’Brien replied: “The easy answer is, of course, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this. I think what hasn’t come across in these decisions is the great work that was being done and the wonderful atmosphere.”

Rupert Butler of Leverets, acting on behalf of Batmanghelidjh, compared O’Brien to Scotty, chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise in the fictional TV series Star Trek.

“I think you were the chief engineer of the trustee board,” he said.

O’Brien had previously been described as a “lone wolf”.

Butler asked O'Brien about his relationship with Batmanghelidjh, who was described as a “rock star” that “you couldn’t walk down the street without people coming over to her”.

O’Brien dismissed any notion that Batmanghelidjh was disruptive or unmanageable. 

He said he thought their disagreements were “healthy” as he paraphrased another quote about “all human progress being down to unreasonable people”. 

Last week the court heard that the charity had “nothing to hide” from the government.

The 10-week trial is due to conclude next week after legal teams make their closing arguments.

A decision is expected early next year.

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