- This story was corrected on 24 February 2015; please see final paragraph
The Charity Commission has admitted that it took too long to remove the Steadfast Trust from the register of charities after it emerged that the regulator first discovered a potential problem with the organisation’s objects in 2007.
The Steadfast Trust, which was entered onto the register of charities in September 2004, was removed from it this month after covert footage from an ITV Exposure documentary was shared with the commission.
Two men associated with the organisation, which had an income of £8,500 for the year ending March 2014, were arrested and bailed on suspicion of fraud earlier this month.
The commission said the charity had been registered in error because it had not been clear that the trust’s beneficiaries, described as "members of the Anglo-Saxon community living in England", could be identified or were a sufficient section of the public, as required by charity law.
A spokeswoman for the regulator told Third Sector today it first discovered that Steadfast’s objects might not be charitable in 2007 but did not decide to remove the organisation from the register until May 2014.
A decision document on the commission’s website shows that in June 2007 the regulator rejected applications for registration from two organisations with beneficiaries similar to those of Steadfast – the Ethnic-English Trust and the Ironside Community Trust – because it felt their objects were not for the public benefit and that there might be a non-charitable purpose behind their applications. The commission noted at the time that the EET’s two directors were also the sole directors of Steadfast.
The rejected charities’ applications were submitted by the same solicitor, a former director of Steadfast, and several references were made to Steadfast in the charities’ correspondence with the commission, the decision document says.
A spokeswoman for the commission said these cases showed that there could also be a "difficulty" with Steadfast itself.
The decision document says the commission noted in 2007 that one Steadfast trustee was a regular contributor to a magazine called Steadfast, whose spring 2004 issue included articles by representatives of nationalist parties such as the British National Party.
The commission also noted that the Steadfast website described its strategy as the pursuit of an "ethnic politics" approach, "demanding that the English be recognised as an ethnic group and be given the same rights and privileges as other ethnic groups".
Asked why it took seven years to remove Steadfast from the register, a spokeswoman for the commission said: "Given that the Steadfast Trust was a registered charity, it was necessary for the commission to engage with the organisation to seek clarification of its objects and activities before reaching any decision that the trust was not a charity in law. This engagement was protracted and took too long. We would be more robust now and place more emphasis on the trustees to comply with the law and in a more timely way."
The spokeswoman said the decision to remove Steadfast from the register was taken and communicated to the organisation before the commission became aware that the Exposure documentary-makers were investigating it.
Asked why the commission chose not to formally remove the charity until this month, she said: "After our decision, it was important that the justification for it was set out fully and clearly, given that the trust has rights of appeal to the charity tribunal about the decision to deregister. This took time."
- The story originally said that the Charity Commission first discovered that the Steadfast Trust's objects were not charitable in 2007.