Charity trustee banned for 15 years after ‘damaging public trust’

The Charity Commission has banned a former trustee for 15 years following an investigation into her running of an animal welfare charity.

Sheila Stewart, a former trustee of Capricorn Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, will not be able to serve on any charity board for 15 years after the regulator found concerns around her management approach and the treatment of animals being looked after.

The regulator was particularly concerned that she was living in accommodation on the sanctuary’s premises “on favourable terms” and the charity had been unable to confirm that all her rent payments had been made.

“Occupation of the property on favourable terms is itself a benefit and any unpaid rent would amount to a further unauthorised benefit to a charity trustee,” said the Commission following its investigation.

The welfare of animals at the sanctuary was another concern, raised by the public and following subsequent RSPCA inspections.

“The effect of this failure was to damage or likely damage public trust and confidence in the charity”, said the regulator.

The Sanctuary was closed in 2018 and 140 animals were rehomed with support from the RSPCA.

Other concerns were that Stewart had taken minutes at “infrequent trustee meetings” but did not provide them to trustees “despite specific requests for the minutes to be distributed”.

Stewart also failed to provide financial information to trustees and refused to deal with concerns raised by other trustees around the charity’s operation.

'Failure to work collaboratively'

The regulator said that “the consequences of this failure to work collaboratively” included a raft of trustee resignations. There were 18 different trustees between 2015 and 2018, the Commission’s investigation found.

This meant the charity “lacked an effective management structure”.

Further concerns were around “inappropriate” banking and cash handling.

Cheques requiring two signatures were only signed by Stewart, including some issued to her son.

In addition, cash from the charity’s shops was collected and banked solely by Stewart or left “often insecurely” on the charity’s premises.

“The public was rightly concerned about the effectiveness of the charity and its ability to deliver on its charitable aims,” said Charity Commission head of investigations Amy Spiller.

“Where a charity is inefficiently administered, it is right that it winds up and is removed from the register.

“The very real impacts of poor governance, ineffective financial controls and mismanagement are highlighted by this case.

“The failures of the trustees, including Sheila Stewart, to properly manage the charity, resulted in its closure and the rehoming of 140 animals in its care.”

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