EXCLUSIVE: Charity Commission offers “full unqualified apology” to RUC widow

The Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Charity Commission has formally written to the 71 year old widow of a disabled RUC officer with a “full, unconditional apology” for a letter sent by two Commissioners- Seamus Magee and Geraldine Donaghy- which threatened the pensioner with legal action for criticising the Commission.

EXCLUSIVE: Charity Commission offers “full unqualified apology” to RUC widow

By Jamie Bryson

The positive letter from Nicole Lappin- who was not in post at the time of the incident- stated that the Commissioners had met to “reflect of the matter” and “unanimously agreed the letter should not have been sent”. Ms Lappin continued “it was disproportionate given all the circumstances”.

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It is understood the RUC widow is “very pleased” with the apology given the serious distress caused by the legal threat and indeed all of the Charity Commission’s actions in relation to the Disabled Police Officers Association NI.

Sources have indicated that the Commission under the leadership of Ms Lappin has adopted a more positive approach and sought to engage with, and where appropriate apologise to, those affected by the previous actions of the Commission, many of which flowed from the actions of their former Head of Enquries, who has since left post.

This approach has been welcomed by many of those who have had a long and difficult experience with the Charity Commission which was plainly unfit for purpose prior to the appointment of qualified barristers Nicole Lappin (Chief Commissioner) and Sarah Finnegan (Head of Enquries).

The November 2018 legal threat came to light within the leaked ‘Baume report’, exclusively revealed two weeks ago on Unionist Voice. The report explored a series of issues in relation to the conduct of the Charity Commission, concluding its work in August 2020.

In relation to the letter to the RUC widow Mr Baume describes the issuing of the letter as a “small example” flowing from “problematic cultural issues” within the Charity Commission.

In a withering rebuke, Mr Baume states at paragraph 10 of his report “regardless of whether or not CCNI had any legal grounds for such threats, it hardly seems an appropriate response by a public body to the grieving widow of a disabled police officer.”

The shocking report also found:

  • The approach of CCNI in continuing to defend actions taken without legal powers “potentially undermines the Rule of law”.
  • The supposedly independent Charity Tribunal may have been “hesitant in challenging the Charity Commission” and Mr Baume commented that a High Court judgment in May 2016 was “less than reassuring” about the work of at least that Charity Tribunal.
  • It was “nonsense” for the Scott Review (a review into the Charity Commission) to make a statement in defence of CCNI, which demonstrated a “lack of critical analysis and questioning of CCNI” when it came to Charity Commission CEO Frances McCandless publishing a quote publicly on her Facebook page which described the needy as a “shower of bastards”.
  • In relation to the “shower of bastards” quote, Mr Baume stated “many observers may find them to be offensive, and one can question whether it was appropriate for the Chief Executive of the Charity Commission to share a quote which describes the needy in such terms”.
  • From 2013 onwards Charity Commission inquiry case files were found by a previous review to be “often in poor order” and it further found “on occasions inadequate audit trail in recording decisions taken”.
  • Reasonable FOIs from RUC widows and others were rejected, heavily redacted, and some were inexplicitly deemed “vexatious”.
  • The Charity Commission first “had doubts about its legal ability to delegate to staff” as far back as 2011 for which they received legal advice from the Departmental Solicitors Office which was treated as “unassailable”. Mr Baume comments that “governments and public bodies across the UK appear regularly before the courts, and it is not unknown for them to lose despite the ‘strength’ of legal advice.”

Following the existence of the report being revealed on Unionist Voice, the Charity Commission asked the Department of Communities for the report to be withdrawn as a number of those named had not been given the opportunity to comment on the allegations within it.

However, it transpired that days earlier the Department of Communities head of governance had already accepted the findings of the report, and issued a range of actions in order to implement the recommendations made by Mr Baume.

It is unclear whether the Commission maintain their position on the full contents of the report, given their fulsome and welcome apology to the RUC widow.

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