Sexual health charity 'should have done more on safeguarding'

A report by the Charity Commission says Yorkshire Mesmac 'left issues of serious regulatory concern unchecked and unmanaged' after a former trustee was convicted of child sex offences

A Yorkshire-based sexual health charity that became the subject of a Charity Commission case after a former trustee was convicted of child sex offences should have done more to prioritise safeguarding, the regulator has concluded.

The commission’s report of its compliance case on Yorkshire Mesmac says the charity’s failure to report serious incidents to the regulator "left issues of serious regulatory concern unchecked and unmanaged".

The regulator became involved in late 2017 after media reports claimed the charity’s staff-conduct policy appeared to permit non-professional personal relationships between its employees and service users.

The commission said the charity gave assurances at the time that the policy in question had been amended to make it clear that such relationships were not allowed.

In February this year, the charity submitted a serious incident report to the commission after Heathcliffe Bowen, a trustee of the charity between 2010 and 2014, was jailed for five years for a string of child sexual offences.

This led to the regulator opening a compliance case on the charity, which looked into the charity’s safeguarding procedures.

The commission found that although the charity’s trustees had been aware of allegations against Bowen since at least 2015, it failed to report a serious incident to the regulator at the time.

The regulator found that although Bowen did not have sole contact with service users and therefore the risk of harm to beneficiaries was minimal, it concluded that the charity should tighten its safeguarding policies.

Bowen has since been disqualified as acting as a charity trustee, the commission said.

"As an organisation working with vulnerable groups, we considered that the trustees of Yorkshire Mesmac should have done more to prioritise safeguarding in the past, particularly in terms of reporting," the commission said.

"We concluded that the trustees’ failure to report serious incidents to the commission left issues of serious regulatory concern unchecked and unmanaged.

"Through their actions, the trustees placed the charity and its beneficiaries at undue risk, thereby falling short on important duties around safeguarding and managing risk."

The commission said it was satisfied that the charity’s trustees had addressed the issues after they were given an action plan by the regulator.

The charity had also decided to end its targeted work with young men and boys at risk of sexual exploitation and made arrangements to wind down its services in this area.

Tom Doyle, chief executive of Yorkshire Mesmac, said: "We would like to thank the Charity Commission for its help and advice during this difficult time. We are reassured that the commission concluded that historic incidences were dealt with appropriately.

"We are pleased that the report highlighted that trustees cooperated with the commission throughout and demonstrated a commitment to strengthening our safeguarding procedures."

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