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Charity to take Sunday Times to press regulator over ‘gutter journalism’

12 Mar 2018 News

A sexual health charity has said it will refer a Sunday Times article to the press regulator, Ipso, after an article at the weekend saying the charity had been “hit by sex scandal”. 

The Sunday Times reported that Leeds City Council had referred two complaints to police about Men who Enjoy Sex With Men — Action in the Community, known as Yorkshire MESMAC, and that one of its former trustees had been jailed for child sex offences. 

The paper’s investigation, under the headline Abuse survivors charity Yorkshire Mesmac hit by sex scandal appeared on 4 March, said the charity was facing “claims of sexual misconduct in the first recent charity sex scandal where the alleged victims are in the UK”. 

Last autumn the Sunday Times published an article revealing what it called the charity’s “sex-with-clients” policy, prompting the charity to review its policy, which had previously allowed for staff and volunteers to enter into relationships with people who may be beneficiaries of the charity, for example those who might have been given one of the charity’s safer sex packs. 

In last week’s piece the paper reported that in 2009 three trustees had resigned over the policy. 

The Sunday Times reported that a former trustee, Heathcliffe Bowen, was convicted of multiple child sex offences. The charity said he was forced to resign as soon as it became aware of the police investigation. 

‘Based on half-truths’ 

In a statement the Yorkshire Mesmac said it would refer the matter to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). It said it had responded to the journalist’s questions but that the article was “selective”.  

It said the article was “a disgraceful example of gutter ‘journalism’” and that “it is based on half-truths, rumour and innuendo”. 

The charity said: “This piece purposely distorts the important work and professionalism of our dedicated staff and the expert support they offer to thousands of people year in year out.”

Concerns raised with Charity Commission 

The Chaity Commission said it has opened a regulatory compliance case into the charity after concerns were raised with it. 

A spokeswoman said: “Following serious concerns regarding Yorkshire MESMAC we have a regulatory compliance case open in order to ensure the trustees are fully upholding their duties towards the charity. We want to ensure that safeguarding is properly understood by the charity and that its culture, policies and practice are making the charity a safe space for anyone who comes into contact with it.” 

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