Society of Antiquaries says its governance is 'not fit for purpose'

The charity says its procedures will be reformed after fellows voted against expelling a child sex offender

Society of Antiquaries (Photograph: Steve Taylor ARPS/Alamy)
Society of Antiquaries (Photograph: Steve Taylor ARPS/Alamy)

The Society of Antiquaries has said its governance procedures are "not fit for purpose" and will be reformed after the charity’s fellows rejected the opportunity to expel a child sex offender.

In a meeting of the 312-year-old charity last month, fellows voted against a motion to remove Hubert Chesshyre, a former officer of arms, as a fellow after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published proceedings earlier this year confirming that he had committed two acts of gross indecency with a minor.

Chesshyre had not been tried in 2015 over the alleged offences – which dated back to between 1995 and 1998 – because he was considered unfit to stand trial due to his advanced age and ill health, a statement from the charity said.

But a trial of the facts at Snaresbrook Crown Court found that Chesshyre had committed the two acts of gross indecency. He was given an absolute discharge because of his inability to stand trial.

The IICSA’s decision to publish the proceedings of the court case led to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat, which coordinates the UK’s honours system, recommending that Chesshyre have any honours forfeited.

A number of fellows of the charity subsequently asked for a vote on Chesshyre’s removal from the organisation and the society’s council put the resolution forward unanimously.

The charity also contacted Chesshyre’s victim about its decision to pursue Chesshyre’s expulsion from the society.

But the fellows rejected the resolution. A spokeswoman for the charity said only a small number of fellows had attended the meeting and many others were unable to attend because the meeting was held at short notice.

The charity said it had been in touch with Chesshyre’s victim throughout the process and unreservedly apologised for the failure to expel Chesshyre and expressed deep regret that the board’s resolution was unsuccessful.

In a statement, the charity said it would be pursuing changes to the charity’s governance so it could uphold its role as an educational charity that operates for public benefit.

"In the light of the outcome of the resolution and council’s view that the society must be able to act to uphold its standards, council is clear that in this respect the existing governance procedures are not fit for purpose and council is actively working on reform to the statutes that will enable the society to take action in cases such as these," the statement said.

"Council therefore welcomes the support of the many fellows who have written to express their dismay at the outcome of the meeting to remove Mr Chesshyre and shares their desire for reform. 

"The continued support of fellows will be essential if council’s programme of reform is to be enacted, and council would urge fellows to remain members of the charity so they can support reform."

In a tweet Karl Wilding, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the fellows’ decision was "wrong".

He said: "This is the wrong decision by the society’s fellows. It is against what the trustees recommended. It goes against the charity sector’s ethical principles.

"Fellows need to rethink and reconvene."

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