The Charity Tribunal for Northern Ireland has ruled that a removed trustee of the lifeboat charity Lough Neagh Rescue should not be reinstated because to do so would cause "further conflict and disharmony" at the charity.
Trevor McKee appealed to the tribunal after he was removed as a trustee of the charity by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland last year.
But the tribunal’s judgment, made last week and published online yesterday, says that McKee’s appeal has been rejected.
The CCNI opened a statutory inquiry into Lough Neagh Rescue in May 2013 over concerns about its "historic administration and governance". It then removed McKee as a trustee of the charity on 15 August, and on 25 October removed five volunteer crew members from the charity.
These decisions were subsequently appealed. After a week-long tribunal hearing at the end of March, the CCNI dropped its opposition to their appeals and the five volunteers were reinstated to the charity.
The tribunal was told that McKee took steps to freeze the charity’s bank account, called in the charity’s collection boxes, was "instrumental in restricting the charity’s use of a major asset in the form of a lifeboat", created an alternative website for the charity and carried out other actions. It also heard that McKee had been working, as he said, "to protect the interests of the charity and its beneficiaries" after what he saw as an "illegitimate" annual general meeting in 2011.
The decision says that these actions did not constitute misconduct and that there was "absolutely no suggestion that anything that Mr McKee did was for his personal benefit"; but it goes on to say that his conduct "contrasted with objects of the charity".
But it also says it was "both necessary and desirable" that he be removed "because the tribunal considers that there is no prospect of Mr McKee productively contributing to the administration of the affairs of the charity". The judgment says: "The tribunal concludes that, unless Mr McKee is removed from office, there will be further conflict and disharmony in the management of the charity."
McKee could seek permission to appeal to the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, but he told Third Sector he would not do so because of the costs involved. "The High Court isn't an option and is purely academic as far as ordinary working men are concerned," he said.
McKee said the tribunal's decision had hinged on the results of the 2011 annual general meeting. He said that the police, the charity’s bank and the CCNI had agreed with his view that there were no directors in place at the charity after that meeting. "It appears that the only people who determined that the AGM was legal was the tribunal," he said.
He added: "The tribunal was kind in places and I suppose we can be grateful for that. However, for me at least, there are still issues of significance in the commission’s handling of the inquiry and subsequent orders that have not been addressed."
A spokeswoman for the CCNI said: "The tribunal is the right and proper place for decisions of the commission to be appealed or formally reviewed." She said that, with the statutory inquiry continuing, the commission would "continue working with Lough Neagh Rescue to support it in maintaining its current good governance and operating effectively and efficiently".
A spokeswoman for LNR said the charity was happy with the tribunal’s decision. "We fully support the CCNI and are thankful for the work it has carried out for the good of Lough Neagh Rescue," she said. "As we prepare to put all of this behind us, we will continue to work closely with the CCNI in the best interests of our life-saving organisation."