Regulator slams charity over failed attempt to turn football ground into a school

A religious charity that made repeated mistakes in an attempt to build a school on the site of a football ground has been criticised by the Charity Commission.

Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar Trust’s mistakes included buying a former football ground in Hayes in West London for £1.4m to build a school, only discover that it could not be built due to a large gas pipeline under the site.

Trustees at the Sikh charity had thought the pipeline was smaller and “would not be a problem”.

A further £50,000 was spent to turn the site into a car park. But this was done without planning permission and the car park had to be removed, with the cost met by the charity’s benefactors who had paid for it to be laid in the first place.

The mistakes have been revealed in the findings of the regulator’s investigation that began in 2016 into the charity’s management and finances.

“The inquiry found that the trustees failed to undertake appropriate due diligence when purchasing the land, which resulted in additional expenditure,” said the regulator.

“They subsequently failed to comply in time with a local authority enforcement notice to remove the car park. Trustees have an obligation to abide by the law and this failure to comply with planning law and a local authority enforcement notice is a breach of trustee duty.”

In addition, the Charity Commission found that they had failed to fully comply with charity law by failing to submit accounts within ten months of the end of the financial year for the years ending March 2013 to 2015 as well as for March 2018 and 2019.

The regulator’s report added: “The inquiry found that the trustees lacked the necessary skills to manage the Charity in line with Commission guidance and best practice.

“For example, there had been insufficient record keeping in relation to major decisions made by the Charity, including when entering into loans and buying land.”

Further concerns raised include “conflicts of interest and loyalty” not managed adequately.

Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar Trust was issued with an action plan in November last year. This includes reviewing outstanding loans, appointing additional trustees and tackling conflicts of interest.

The regulator notes that trustees have “provided evidence and information to the inquiry that indicates that they have taken steps towards complying with the action plan”.

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