Women's charity failed to escalate safeguarding incidents, Charity Commission finds

But the regulator praised City Hearts for its response to the historical allegations, including quickly changing policies and opening an independent inquiry

The Charity Commission has found failings in the reporting of safeguarding incidents at a women’s charity by opening a case on the organisation after a Channel 4 News exposé last year.

But the commission's compliance case report on City Hearts welcomed the charity’s response to the accusations, which included quickly opening an independent inquiry and subsequent changes in policy.

The case was opened after allegations emerged about a recovery programme run by the charity between 2011 and 2012. The allegations were aired by two former clients and a former staff member on a Channel 4 News programme in March 2018.

One woman told Channel 4 News that when she was on the recovery programme, which closed in 2012, she "realised I had gone from one controlling relationship to what felt like another".

Another woman, who had joined the programme after she escaped trafficking, said she was told by a staff member "you have a devil in you, and you have to change that".

City Hearts opened its own independent investigation to review the allegations and the commission opened a regulatory compliance case to assess the charity's governance and safeguarding.

The regulator concluded that there were "no live risks" with the charity’s safeguarding policy and backed the charity’s decision to appoint an independent investigator to conduct the review.

But it said there was misconduct and/or mismanagement involved in the ways that safeguarding incidents were escalated, with senior staff at the charity unaware of incidents and unable to manage the issues effectively as a result.

The charity also failed to manage conflicts of interest properly, the commission said, noting that all of the organisation's board members had also been members of Hope City Church at the time the television programme was broadcast.

But the commission said the charity had made some changes to its processes and procedures before the allegations in the television programme became public and had implemented a number of changes from the independent review.

The regulator added that the charity had been issued with an action plan and would be monitored to ensure those recommendations were enacted.

The charity has also appointed new independent trustees.

Ed Newton, chief executive of City Hearts, said: "We offer a profuse and heartfelt apology that a small number of clients were let down by insufficient reporting and channelling of complaints within the charity.

"The independent investigation was lengthy and thorough and we have acted upon its findings. As a result we improved staff training and have been working robustly to ensure our policies and values on inclusion, equality and diversity are followed throughout the organisation.

"We remain committed to the continuous improvement and development of the charity."

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