Share

Charity Commission denies political motivation in Atlantic Bridge case

Dr Liam Fox MP
News

Charity Commission denies political motivation in Atlantic Bridge case1

Governance | Tania Mason | 6 Jul 2012

Stephen Newton, the blogger whose complaint to the Charity Commission led to the closure of Atlantic Bridge, the charity founded by Dr Liam Fox MP, has described the Commission’s decision not to recover funds from the trustees as a political one.

He said the regulator’s proclaimed justification for not seeking recovery of the misspent funds – that the trustees did not realise they were breaking the law – would never pass muster ordinarily.

“It beggars belief that such senior and experienced politicians were so ignorant of charity law, and in no other sphere would one expect ignorance of the law to be a valid legal defence against prosecution,” Newton said.

At the end of last month, the Commission published a supplementary report on the Atlantic Bridge investigation, in which it explained its decision not to seek recovery of charitable funds from Dr Fox (pictured) and the other trustees, all of whom had strong Conservative links.  

The regulator said that legal proceedings against trustees for recovery of funds lost to the charity in breach of their duties can only be brought with the consent of the Attorney General, currently Dominic Grieve MP, another Conservative minister.

It said that while the trustees did use the charity’s funds for non-charitable activities, they did not do so intentionally.

“The Commission found no evidence that the trustees had acted in bad faith,” the report said. Instead, the trustees believed that they were acting lawfully “and pursuing a correct interpretation of Atlantic Bridge’s objects” – even though the Commission’s investigation concluded that their activities “promoted a particular point of view which was not uncontroversial, and consequently not educational under charity law”.

HMRC recovered £50,000 in unpaid tax

The report also confirms that after the Commission published its regulatory case report in 2010 which found that none of Atlantic Bridge’s activities were charitable, HMRC did take action to recover £50,000 in unpaid tax.  According to the Financial Times, this debt was covered by hedge fund manager and Tory donor Michael Hintze. A surplus of £414 in the charity’s accounts at the time the trustees wound it up was donated to the Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience charity.

Responding to the latest report, blogger Stephen Newton said: “That surplus charity money has gone to a harmless tourist attraction rather than another Conservative Party think tank is a small relief.

“However, it remains the case that Atlantic Bridge was established as a charity in order to divert tax relief into the promotion of networking events for senior British Conservative politicians and their US allies.

“It cannot be right that in a case as politically sensitive as this one, which had contributed to a Cabinet minister’s resignation and in which more Cabinet ministers were implicated, the decision to prosecute should be a political one.”

Commission: Our decision was not political

Invited to respond to Newton’s accusation, the Charity Commission denied any political motivation and said the reason the case was not taken further was that the prospect of successful recovery of funds was not strong enough.

A spokeswoman told civilsociety.co.uk: “The Commission's decisions are not political: our role is focused on the conduct of trustees and the exercise of their duties towards their charities.

“We carefully considered the question of whether to take proceedings to seek restitution of the funds the charity lost in breach of duty, ie to non-charitable activity. As explained in the supplementary report published last month, in order to exercise this power, we would need to be able to be clear that the trustees were sufficiently culpable in law and the matter was in the public interest.

“In this case, taking into account all the evidence and facts, we concluded that the prospect of successful recovery of funds was not strong enough.”

Carl Allen
6 Jul 2012

It does seem to open the law for professionals who serve as charity trustees to use this defense for an awful lot of dubious practices

Perhaps it even invites abuse of what is considered reasonable through precedent.

Comments

[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The civilsociety.co.uk community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear

Please:

  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.

Free eNews

DWP promises measures to improve charities’ experience of the Work Programme

18 Dec 2014

The Department for Work and Pensions has agreed to introduce measures expected to improve the Work Programme...

Acevo membership fell 10 per cent in the last year

18 Dec 2014

Chief executives’ body Acevo saw a 10 per cent drop in membership in the year to March 2014, and a fall...

Government commits another £2.3m to support Kew

17 Dec 2014

Nick Clegg yesterday announced an additional £2.3m of funding to support Kew Gardens’ botanical research...

Camelot CEO says deregulation of society lotteries may not increase good cause money

18 Dec 2014

The chief executive of Camelot has said that reducing the regulation around society lotteries may not...

Ukip supporters trust charities less than other voters do, NPC study finds

18 Dec 2014

A survey by Ipsos Mori for NPC about how charities are perceived by people who vote for various political...

Tobin Aldrich leaves Sightsavers to set up consultancy

17 Dec 2014

Former director of global fundraising for Sightsavers, Tobin Aldrich, has announced that he has left the...

CRUK crowdfunding effort flops

15 Dec 2014

Cancer Research UK’s three new crowdfunding campaigns did not manage to raise even 10 per cent of the...

Volunteering platform Do-it relaunches

12 Dec 2014

Online volunteering platform Do-it has been relaunched today by its new owner, the Do-it Trust, with more...

‘The challenge is getting people to use IT systems’

28 Nov 2014

Whatever type of customer-relationship management system charities use, the biggest challenge is convincing...

Join the discussion

Twitter
 
Training

Attending our one day courses is a highly effective way of ensuring new and existing trustees fully understand their role, responsibilities and liabilities.

>> Find out more <<