Help for Heroes has made a “legal complaint” over an article which appeared in the Mail on Sunday, accusing the paper of “recklessly attacking” the organisation over data protection and its treatment of whistleblowers.
The Mail on Sunday ran an article yesterday which accused Help for Heroes of, amongst other things, sharing “confidential medical details of a serving solider” which led him to “attempt suicide” and said that senior management at the charity “bullied and hounded out” staff who raised concerns about the organisation.
The article said Deborah Gildersleeves, the former head of psychological wellbeing at the charity, “was offered a five-figure sum” to drop an unfair dismissal claim against the charity in April 2015.
Gildersleeves reportedly accepted the sum, signed a confidentiality agreement but also “reported Help for Heroes to the Charity Commission, claiming the lack of an effective data protection policy had put vulnerable veterans in danger”.
The article cites a number of other “anonymous” former employees, one of whom is quoted as saying: “There was no data protection policy. The leadership preferred an ‘open door’ approach, whereby any member of staff could discuss any client’s case with anyone”. The Mail article claimed that “at least seven employees are understood to have left their jobs and received pay-offs totalling £200,000 in the past four years".
A spokesman from the Charity Commission confirmed to Civil Society News that the charity is already being looked into over the issues raised in the article. The case was first opened in April/May 2015.
“Serious concerns were raised with us about services provided at the rehabilitation centre funded by Help for Heroes,” said the spokesman. “We have been in contact with the charity and the trustees have co-operated with us and have provided the information we have requested.
“Our engagement with the charity is still ongoing and we are not in a position to provide further information at this stage”.
Mail accusations 'false and without foundation'
For its part, Help for Heroes released a statement yesterday which said that the accusations made in the Mail’s article were “false and without foundation”. It also said the Mail “had clearly selected its headline and let sensationalism get in the way of fact”.
The statement called the article a “reckless attack” on the charity and said it was a “kick in the teeth” for staff, volunteers and wounded veterans.
“By recklessly attacking an organisation which supports and represents the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, the Mail on Sunday is effectively putting at risk those who have been injured in the service of our Country by jeopardising the vital support they may receive in the future."
The charity also said that the Mail only informed the charity that it would be publishing its article the day before, giving the organisation “only a few hours to respond”. The charity also said the Mail did not provide any “evidence to substantiate the claims”.
“We replied in as much detail as possible and told the paper that the claims were false and without foundation. The Mail on Sunday had clearly selected its headline and let sensationalism get in the way of fact.”
The statement, signed by Help for Heroes’ co-founder and chief executive Bryn Parry, concludes: “We are rebuilding lives and that is vital work; we are privileged to be a part of it and it is an honour to work alongside you all”.