Two former trustees of Chichester and District Dog Rescue Society have been banned from holding senior charity roles after using the charity’s money improperly, including to pay for a holiday.
The regulator found the two trustees guilty of “serious mismanagement and/or misconduct in the charity’s governance, management and administration” and disqualified them from acting as a trustee or holding a senior role at a charity for seven years.
The Commission started investigating the charity and froze its bank accounts in 2017, after an independent examiner discovered irregularities in its bookkeeping. It then opened a statutory inquiry, which has now been completed.
The inquiry found a series of issues in the way the two trustees had managed the charity. They were married and initially the only two trustees of the charity, so “conflicts of interest were not managed appropriately”.
The couple lived in a property owned by the charity without paying any rent and used the charity’s money to pay for a holiday and for a wood burner for the property.
More than £300,000 was withdrawn from the charity’s accounts and is currently unaccounted for. This has been referred to the police, who are looking into it.
The inquiry also found a series of management issues. The charity shops owned by the charity were not properly maintained, annual accounts were filed late, there was an alleged theft at the charity that was never reported to the police.
The charity paid for a series of veterinary fees for dog owners who could not afford them, even though this was outside its objects, which only included rescuing and rehoming unwanted dogs.
The charity also asked for a £100 (later £150) fee for every dog it rehomed, but there is no track record of where the money went.
Amy Spiller, head of investigations team, Charity Commission, said: “Trustees are under an obligation to act in the best interests of their charity by handling donations with care and stewarding funds towards the good cause they serve.
“The former trustees of this charity failed to deliver on this expectation – they were reckless with the charity’s money and used funds for their own personal expenses. This almost cost the charity’s future and will have let down people who trusted this charity to help a cause they care about.
“Rightly, the trustees have been disqualified and new trustees have been appointed to ensure this charity is now placed to deliver on its purposes and thrive.”
Charity is now 'fully compliant'
New trustees were nominated in November 2018 and cooperated with the inquiry. They considered closing down the charity, but a “substantial legacy” allowed them to keep it functioning.
Diana Dubray-Fox, chair of Chichester and District Dog Rescue Society, said: “We’re very disappointed with the previous management, but we hope the public will keep supporting us and our work now that things have changed.”
The Charity Commission said that the charity is now “operating effectively” and “fully compliant with its filing obligations”.
The Chichester and District Dog Rescue Society has an income of about £125,000 and is currently run by five trustees and has 25 volunteers.