The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into Save the Children UK over concerns about its handling of serious allegations of misconduct and harassment by senior staff members in 2012 and 2015.
The Commission said it engaged with the charity in 2015-16, after the charity reported a serious incident relating to allegations of misconduct and harassment against a senior staff member.
It said it also received an anonymous complaint about the charity’s response to further allegations against senior staff members.
The regulator said it met Save the Children UK’s chair at the time and instructed the charity to provide it with the findings of its independent review.
It said it received direct assurance from trustees that all of these recommendations had been accepted and were being urgently acted upon.
The Commission then re-engaged with the charity in February 2018 when they were responding to further public scrutiny about the 2015 issues.
In February, Save the Children confirmed that concerns were raised about inappropriate behaviour and comments by Justin Forsyth in 2011 and 2015, who was chief executive at the time.
Also that month, allegations against former employee Brendan Cox, husband of MP Jo Cox who was murdered in her constituency in 2016, were made public.
At this time, the charity announced a new review into workplace culture at the charity, which amongst other things will assess whether recommendations from a previous review have been fully and effectively implemented.
Scope of investigation
The Commission said it has fresh concerns following its recent engagement with the charity including:
- whether the charity adequately reported the full extent and nature of allegations to the Commission in 2015/16
- how the charity handled complaints in 2012 and 2015 and, as a result, the extent of any reviews conducted at the time by the trustees into the charity’s response to the allegations
- the charity’s decision making since February 2018 on its public position regarding these allegations
As a result, the Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity on 4 April, which will examine, among other matters, whether trustees have:
- adequately discharged their duties in handling the allegations at the time, and in fulfilling their duty of care towards their employees
- ensured the charity has implemented measures about operating to appropriate standards of work place conduct and staff safeguarding - including testing staffing misconduct allegations, complaints or incidents received by the charity since 1 January 2016
- made decisions around public handling and reputation management on the historic allegations appropriately
- disclosed fully, frankly and accurately, serious incidents relating to staffing matters to the Commission
The inquiry will only consider safeguarding issues related to Save the Children staff, not the charity’s beneficiaries.
Michelle Russell, director of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “This inquiry centres specifically on how the charity handled complaints in 2012 and 2015 about senior members of staff, and how the charity responded to and managed public and media scrutiny of those events in 2018.
“Opening a formal investigation does not necessarily mean that we have concluded that there has been wrongdoing by the trustees of The Save the Children Fund.
“However, we do have questions that must be answered, and we need to hold the charity formally accountable for providing them in a clear and timely manner.”
Save the Children said it would co-operate fully with the Charity Commission and act swiftly on any lessons that emerge.
Peter Bennett-Jones, the charity’s chair, said: “It is critical that Save the Children works with the Charity Commission to examine whether mistakes were made in the past.
“If mistakes were made they will be fully acknowledged and properly addressed. We are committed to working with the Charity Commission to establish a truthful and accurate account of events and the charity’s response. If mistakes were made, we will act swiftly and decisively to address them.
“We are unequivocally committed to building a workplace culture based on mutual respect – a culture in which all of our staff feel protected, supported and listened to.
“In February 2018 we established an independent review led by Dr Suzanne Shale, an expert in organisational ethics, aimed at strengthening our workplace culture.
“With a new leadership team in place we have strengthened of staff protection systems through mandatory training and other measures. Save the Children UK has a policy of zero tolerance towards any form of bullying or harassment.”