The trustees of an animal charity that went into liquidation earlier this year did not fulfil their legal duties and their administration of the charity amounted to misconduct, according to a report from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
Fife Animal Trust went into liquidation in March after the trustees failed to adequately separate the charity from a commercial entity they also ran and ensure it had a lease for the land it occupied, says the OSCR report, published yesterday.
A liquidator was appointed to the trust in March because it was unable to meet its financial commitments. The trust, which was registered as both a charity and a company, ran Fife Animal Park alongside Fife Animal Park Ltd, which was dissolved in June last year.
The OSCR opened an inquiry into Fife Animal Trust, which had an income of £68,912 in the year to 31 May 2012, after receiving a complaint that Fife Animal Park Ltd was for sale and that charitable assets, including animals, machinery and vehicles, were included in the sale schedule. The OSCR said it was concerned that the charity was being sold together with the business.
The OSCR’s report says that trustees were found not to have fulfilled their legal duties and had engaged in misconduct in the administration of the charity. As a group, the trustees had not been in control of the trust, the report says.
After the park was put up for sale, the OSCR issued a direction last November ordering the trustees of the trust "not to sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of any charitable assets".
It lifted the direction in February, when the park was closed to the public and Fife Council took possession of the charity’s animals, all of which have now been rehomed.
After completing its inquiry, the regulator found that the charity’s board of trustees was not fit for purpose and the overall governance of the charity was poor, as demonstrated by the trustees’ lack of awareness of their duties – none had any previous experience as a trustee or had received training – and lack of knowledge of the charity’s finances.
Financial record keeping was found to be poor, there was no evidence of any supervision of the charity’s manager, Peter Lockhart, and the board had not managed the conflict of interest that Lockhart and one of the trustees had as owners of the land the charity occupied and of Fife Animal Park Ltd, the OSCR report says.
There were also concerns about the use of charity vehicles for non-charity purposes, and about non-compliance with health and safety and zoo licence legislation.
The regulator’s report concludes that disqualifying Fife Animal Trust’s trustees from acting as charity trustees in future had been a "serious consideration" but the OSCR had decided not to do this given the continuing liquidation of the charity and the fact that the individuals were not trustees of any other charities.