Due diligence concerns continue around failed attempt to appoint Charity Commission chair

The charity at centre of allegations of 'inappropriate behaviour' by the government’s choice to be the next chair of the Charity Commission was not even contacted by recruiters, it has emerged.

Former banker Martin Thomas had been appointed earlier this month to chair the regulator after “all due process was followed”, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

But days before he was due to take up the post on December 27 he resigned after it emerged he had been the subject of misconduct complaints at a charity he had chaired.

This included concerns around bullying and other inappropriate behaviour after Thomas, who is reportedly a friend of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, sent a picture of himself in a Victoria Secret’s store to a female employee.

It has since emerged that the charity involved, Women for Women International UK, had not even been contacted by recruiters. This is despite Thomas being chair of the charity from July 2016 to May 2021.

In addition, Women for Women International UK, had informed the Charity Commission of the concerns raised, suggesting that recruiters did not cross reference Thomas with reports to the regulator.

A statement from Women for Women International confirmed that “a complaint alleging bullying behaviour was raised by a member of staff about” Thomas’ conduct in March 2021.

The charity’s statement says: “We take any and all allegations extremely seriously and our primary concern is always the safety and well-being of our staff and programme participants.

“That’s why, as soon as a claim came to light, we commissioned an independent investigation and shortly afterwards submitted a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission in accordance with our regulatory obligations.”

This investigation concluded that there was no “deliberate bullying” by Thomas “but that the complaint was partly upheld insofar as aspects of the Chair’s conduct were judged to have been inappropriate”.

The statement continues: “In view of this, the Board concluded that it would be appropriate to ask that he step down as Chair with immediate effect. However, before they could do so the Chair resigned.

“We have throughout followed all legal and regulatory guidelines and provided additional support to staff going through the investigation. Full updates were provided at each stage to the Charity Commission which in July 2021 wrote confirming that the correspondence on this matter was closed.

“In relation to two other alleged incidents in 2018 and 2019, we carefully examined whether these could have constituted any breach of our trustee code of conduct and concluded that they did not.”

It adds that “Women for Women International - UK was not aware that Mr Thomas had applied for the role of Chair of the Charity Commission”.

A lack of due diligence around the appointment of Thomas has been raised as a key concern by among others the NCVO, which wants the “entire recruitment process” to be re-run following the Thomas recruitment debacle.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell MP said the “lack of due diligence” amid the “serious allegations” around Thomas’ behaviour “is mind boggling”.

The DCMS has said that Thomas's appointment was made in accordance with legislation and the governance code on public appointments.

But it is understood that recruiters only considered information around candidates that was in the public domain relating to their conduct or professional capacity.

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