Ben Cooley, co-founder of Hope for Justice, has left the charity following an independent investigation into allegations from two former staff members.
Hope for Justice aims to end human trafficking and modern slavery, and in 2021 has an operating turnover of £8.7m.
Cooley told Civil Society News he thought more consideration should have been given “to the fact that there was limited evidence available due to the historical nature of the allegation.”
Peter Elson, chair of Hope for Justice, said complaints were first reported to several trustees on 19 January 2021 via the charity's confidential whistleblowing process.
The complaints were made “regarding the behaviours of Ben Cooley”, although Elson said the allegations were not of a criminal nature and no other members of the leadership team were implicated.
“In order to protect the identities of those involved and the full integrity of the investigation, we are unable to provide any further details,” Elson said.
Elson added that the complaints “were immediately acted upon” and an independent and experienced investigator and legal counsel were commissioned on 28 January 2021 following a special meeting of the board of trustees.
“The independent investigator was charged with conducting a thorough evidence-based investigation in order to establish the facts and circumstances relating to the allegations. Interviews were carried out by the independent investigator with persons who were identified as being able to provide evidence of relevance to this investigation.
“On completion of the investigation, a comprehensive written report was submitted to the appointed investigation case team within the trustee board and, based on the investigation findings and recommendations, disciplinary action was then initiated,” he said.
In order for the allegations to be fully investigated, Cooley was instructed to take a leave of absence.
The chair said Cooley subsequently attended a disciplinary hearing in May 2021 and is no longer with the organisation, “subject to the potential of an appeal”.
The charity said there has been no payment made to Cooley following his departure.
'I wish that the process had been handled better'
Cooley told Civil Society News he disagreed with the outcome.
He said: “I wish that the process had been handled better and more consideration had been given to the fact that there was limited evidence available due to the historical nature of the allegation.
“Whilst I fundamentally disagree with the outcome, after 13 years as the founder and chief executive of Hope for Justice, my only hope and prayer is that it will continue to thrive and rescue countless men, women and children caught up in human trafficking”.
The charity has now appointed fellow co-founder Tim Nelson as its interim chief executive. He has served as international development director since 2013.
As well as a new interim chief executive, there will also be further changes to the senior leadership team. Elaine Jones will move from international operations director to chief operating officer.
The charity reported itself to the Charity Commission following the whistleblowers' complaints.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “In January 2021 we assessed a serious incident report submitted by the charity, in connection with concerns about the former chief executive. Based on the information provided, we determined that the charity was handling the matter appropriately and that no further action was required by the Commission.
“The charity has kept us informed throughout the independent investigation. We recently received an update to the serious incident report and are currently assessing this information. We cannot comment further at this time.”