Charity Commission issues official warning to Purpose of Life after blasphemy row

04 Oct 2021 News

The Charity Commission has issued an official warning to a charity for “inflaming” local tensions during a blasphemy row this summer.

Purpose of Life, based in Batley in Yorkshire, published an open letter in March naming a local teacher who was criticised for showing a picture of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson.

The letter, signed by the charity’s founder and released before angry protests outside the school, called for the teacher to be sacked.

The regulator said that naming the teacher posed a “foreseeable risk to the person’s safety”. 

The charity was also warned over a separate incident for breaking campaigning rules, when it gave “its general support to a political party” during a local parliamentary by-election.

Breach of trust

Purpose of Life has committed “a breach of trust and/or duty and/or misconduct and/or mismanagement”, according to the Commission’s warning, which puts “its assets, in particular its reputation, at risk”.

The warning stated that the open letter “publicly named a person at the centre of a protest, despite there being a foreseeable risk to the person’s safety” and “was written in such a way as to be likely to inflame existing tensions within the local community”. 

The Commission added that Purpose of Life had also broken regulations by “publishing two tweets and one video that supported a political party and political candidate and criticised another. This was in breach of Commission guidance in relation to campaigning and political activity, specifically in relation to the fact that a charity must not give its general support to a political party”.

Protests

Police were called to protests outside Batley Grammar School earlier this year when reports circulated locally that a teacher had shown students an image of the Prophet Mohammed.

Purpose of Life, which works in Batley to alleviate food poverty, published a letter on Facebook and Twitter attacking and naming the teacher. The letter demanded that he was “permanently removed” from his job.

The school apologised and suspended the teacher while it investigated the claims.

The charity later deleted the letter, but the teacher was forced to flee his home and has not returned that school.

In June, during a parliamentary by-election in the area, Purpose of Life posted videos of George Galloway, a candidate in the election, visiting the charity and speaking about the local Labour Party.

‘Vetting’  

The Commission told the charity that it must introduce and implement policies for “due diligence/vetting” of the individuals and organisations with whom it works.

Purpose of Life has also been told to improve controls on social media use and to ensure trustees are familiar with data protection laws.

Trustees, staff and volunteers must also show they understand Commission guidance on campaigning and political activity, as well as on elections and referendums.

Failure to do so could lead to further regulatory action, the Commission warned.

Neither Purpose of Life or the Charity Commission responded to a request for comment.

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