The founder of ShelterBox was removed from his role of chief executive for gross misconduct, which included trying to place a contract worth £650,000 with a company the charity believed to be connected with his son John, the charity has said.
Tom Henderson, who founded the international disaster relief charity 12 years ago, was relieved of his duties on 24 July. The charity had declined to give a reason for his departure pending an internal appeal, which has now taken place.
In a statement issued yesterday, Ian Munday, chair of ShelterBox, said that Henderson had been removed from his post for gross misconduct that included "failing to abide by the related party transactions policy; not giving an adequate explanation of those transactions; neglecting the charity’s intellectual property rights; and ultimately putting the charity at risk".
Tom Henderson, who is abroad, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Third Sector, and John Henderson could not be contacted for comment. Their solicitor, John Wilkin of Borlase and Co Solicitors in Helston, said he had not been instructed to speak on their behalf.
John Henderson yesterday told the website This is Cornwall that they both denied any wrongdoing. "We truthfully have nothing to hide," he said. "The key here is hard evidence, whether that is emails or written invoices. We need to see that hard evidence that my father did wrong, because [we say] it doesn't exist. The public should be asking questions of ShelterBox."
Tom Henderson is taking ShelterBox to an Employment Tribunal next year over his dismissal.
In a serious incident report submitted to the Charity Commission on 8 August, which ShelterBox made public yesterday, solicitors acting on the charity's behalf said that its related-parties purchase policy had been changed in 2010 following a complaint from a member of public about the purchase of equipment from a company run by John Henderson.
The change in policy was communicated to all relevant managers. But in 2011 Tom Henderson decided that certain pieces of equipment, including disaster relief tents, should be purchased through new manufacturers, and in January 2012 he placed an order for £650,000 with a new company called Found International, which ShelterBox claims was the new trading name of Camping Online Solutions Limited, a company that was linked to his son John. The order was cancelled by the charity because it feared it breached its related-parties purchase policy.
Munday said in a statement: "We undertook an investigation following an alleged breach of related party transaction policy by Tom Henderson and his failure to protect the charity’s intellectual property ownership. The outcome was that he was unwilling or unable to understand or adhere to critical procedures, designed to safeguard the charity."
He added that Henderson had been offered the post of president in May, which he initially accepted but later turned down. "There were numerous attempts at negotiation but, due to a breakdown in relations and a loss of confidence and trust by the trustees in the chief executive, the board unanimously voted on 23 July that Tom Henderson could no longer remain as chief executive with immediate effect," Munday said in the statement.
ShelterBox’s latest annual report says that ShelterBox purchased goods and services worth £52,081 in 2011 and £477,810 in 2010 from two companies – Ocean Fabrication Limited and Camping Solutions Limited – of which John Henderson was director and sole shareholder.
In August, Sir John Banham, a former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, resigned as a trustee of the charity in protest at the removal of Tom Henderson.