Children's charity investigated amid fraud and governance concerns

The Charity Commission has opened an investigation into Dot Com Children’s Foundation amid allegations of fraud and governance concerns.

It is claimed the charity also spent money owed to bereaved families on lavish events.

Those owed funds include Margaret and Barry Mizen, who campaigned against youth violence following the murder of their son Jimmy the day after his 16th birthday in 2008, and Richard Taylor, father of 10-year-old Damilola, who was killed in south-east London in 2000.

In a statement, the regulator said: “The Charity Commission has recently been alerted to potential concerns about the governance of the Dot Com Children’s Foundation.

“It has opened a regulatory compliance case to assess the information provided. It cannot comment further at this time.”

Charity accused of failing to pay creditors

The Dot Com Foundation was a charity associated with Miss, which was started in 2000 by former BBC, ITV and Sky News presenter Sharon Doughty, and is accused of receiving £2m in public funding but failing to pay creditors back.

An investigation by The Times alleges most of funds given to educational programmes run by Miss were paid to associated companies, whose directors are accused of taking around £1m in earnings.

Creditors allegedly owed money to the Mizens. They claimed they were offered £36,000 to work for the associated private company for a year but had to chase the organisation for monthly payments.

When the private company shut in 2012, the family was allegedly owed £2,000. Doughty and her husband, Neil Evans, a former Met Police officer, denied any wrongdoing and claims the debt could not be repaid because the organisation's bank account had been frozen.

Money was also spent on designer clothes including a gold ballroom dancing dress worn by Doughty in photos with the Blairs and stars from the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing at a fundraiser in 2012 celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Miss children's charity.

The list of creditors allegedly included staff, companies that had provided goods and services, and HM Revenue and Customs, the Foreign Office and a state school. Chrisanne, a design brand known for creating the costumes worn by stars on Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice and Britain's Got Talent, was also apparently owed just over £3,500, according to The Times.

The organisation also allegedly lost £50,000 after the sponsor of a Dionne Warwick event at Banqueting House in 2017 did not cover the costs fully. Accounts filed to the Charity Commission in 2019 show the organisation declared that the incident had been reported to fraud investigators.

Not adding up

Payment information obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act shows that public bodies spent at least £2m on the charity's programmes between 2000 and 2012 - and that most of the money was not paid to the charity.

Instead, the paper alleges that Doughty and Evans set up Miss Publishing Company, or MDC Publishing, a private company in control of the intellectual property related to the charity's central character, Miss Dorothy Com.

Charity accounts showed income of £239,000 between 2000 and 2008, whereas the associated private company allegedly reported ten times that amount in revenue during the same period. The charity had stated that the company would donate a share of its profits to the charity - which the Times alleges amounted to £15,400 in donations.

Scotland Yard allegedly paid the charity and its associated company £1.15million between 2003 and 2012 - funding announced by then London Mayor Boris Johnson at the Brixton Road Youth Centre in Lambeth.

In 2009, the Home Office announced it was spending £480,000 on the copyright for a series of films aimed at teenagers for the charity, which included an introduction from Prince Charles. A Labour Schools Minister announced a further £750,000 in funding at a Westminster event for the charity.

During the 2011-12 financial year, in the months before it declared its debts, the organisations received £400,000 from the Home Office, which by then had switched hands from Labour to the Tory-Liberal coalition.

The Dot Com Children's Foundation's chairman was Nick Wood Dow, a former environmental adviser to David Cameron who joined the charity to help it reduce its losses following the Warwick fundraising event. He resigned after The Times sent him its findings.

Doughty and Evans have denied any wrongdoing. The couple have said that they set up private companies alongside their charities following professional advice, and that public bodies were aware of the structure.

They also insisted they were each paid modest salaries by their private company and that they personally paid all the bills for the Dot Com Children's Foundation for three years.

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