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

Amnesty charity reserves fell to 18 days' spend

23 Apr 2014

The charitable arm of Amnesty International UK had 18 days' worth of free reserves at the end of 2013,...

Northern Rock Foundation says closure 'inevitable'

22 Apr 2014

The Northern Rock Foundation will close after it failed to reach a funding agreement with Virgin Money,...

HMRC doubles scrutiny of charity gift aid claims following Cup Trust

22 Apr 2014

HM Revenue & Customs more than doubled the number of investigations into claims for gift aid in the...

HMRC doubles scrutiny of charity gift aid claims following Cup Trust

22 Apr 2014

HM Revenue & Customs more than doubled the number of investigations into claims for gift aid in the...

Donations to foodbank appeal surge after critical Mail article

22 Apr 2014

The Trussell Trust’s Easter Appeal raised more than £50,000 in two days after a backlash on social...

2014 London Marathon on track to beat the £53m raised last year

18 Apr 2014

The 2014 London Marathon is on track to raise more than £53m for good causes and break the Guinness World...

'Technology can offer charities more than just online donations'

10 Apr 2014

Charities are focusing too much on using digital tools for fundraising instead of how technology can be...

Amnesty calls for 'full and frank disclosure' on alleged US surveillance

9 Apr 2014

Amnesty International has warned that alleged mass surveillance by the American intelligence agency NSA...

Virgin Money Giving launches app following year of growth

1 Apr 2014

Virgin Money Giving has launched an app for users after reporting that 30 per cent of traffic to its platform...

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 <<