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Trustee who failed to act on knowledge of ‘serious abuse’ permanently banned

23 Sep 2019 News

A trustee has been permanently removed by the Charity Commission after "failing to respond appropriately to serious abuse" within a charity called Rigpa Fellowship.

The charity is based in London and aims to advance the Buddhist religion.

It was founded by the Tibetan guru Sogyal Lakar, known as Sogyal Rinpoche, who recently died aged 72 in Thailand. He had been accused of sexual misconduct towards some of his followers.

Rinpoche’s book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, has sold more than three million copies.

Inquiry: Trustee 'had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts'

A statutory inquiry by the Charity Commission found that trustee Susan Burrows “had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity, but failed to take appropriate action in response.”

Burrows “either failed to recognise or sought to downplay the seriousness of allegations, and is responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.''

The Commission has been engaging with Rigpa Fellowship since August 2017 over serious concerns about adult safeguarding. Concerns escalated during this engagement, prompting the opening of the statutory inquiry in November 2018.

In April 2019 it disqualified former trustee, Patrick Gaffney.

At the time the Commission said: “Evidence uncovered by the Commission shows Mr Gaffney had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity.

“Mr Gaffney failed to take appropriate action in response to this information and is therefore responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.”

Burrows is permanently disqualified from serving as a trustee or senior manager of any charity in England and Wales, while Gaffney is disqualified from all charities for a period of eight years.

Commission statement: ‘Appalling abuses and failings’

Amy Spiller, head of the investigations team at the Commission, said: “Serious failings in the leadership of this charity led to people it was supposed to help being harmed and let down. Trustees hold important positions of trust, and are rightly expected to take all appropriate steps to keep people safe. The appalling abuses and failings that occurred here run counter to everything people associate with charity.

“It is right that we have been able to hold those responsible to account. I hope this will bring some comfort to those so badly affected by what went on at Rigpa Fellowship. The safety and wellbeing of beneficiaries and those that come into contact with a charity must always be a priority for its trustees and staff.”

The inquiry is ongoing and the Commission intends to publish a full report, setting out its findings and conclusions.

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