Regulator publishes first statutory inquiry report: Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland, has today (20 January 2015) published its first statutory inquiry report.
The report marks the conclusion of the Commission’s investigation into charity Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd (NIC101051) following the opening of a statutory inquiry in May 2013. The Commission’s inquiry was focussed on addressing concerns about the historic administration and governance of the charity.
The inquiry report provides a statement of the results of the inquiry and is available here.
Initially established at Kinnego Bay, Lurgan, in 1989, Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd provides a volunteer rescue service on Lough Neagh on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and HM Coastguard.
The charity first came to the attention of the Commission when a group of members approached the regulator in January 2012 to voice concerns about the governance and administration of the charity.
The Commission’s enquiries revealed an internal dispute was ongoing within the charity, which had been exacerbated by historic poor record keeping and a lack of adherence to the charity’s articles of association and company and charity law.
On inspecting the charity’s records, the Commission identified serious issues of concern relating to the governance of the charity while under the chairmanship of a trustee who has since been removed by the Commission, and by his subsequent actions. These actions included freezing the charity bank account and restriction of access to a lifeboat.
Given the serious nature of the issues identified, and the potential impact on the charity’s beneficiaries, in May 2013, the Commission’s escalated its investigation into Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd to statutory inquiry.
As part of this inquiry, in August 2013, the Commission issued an order for the removal of a named individual as a trustee of Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd. The Commission issued further orders to remove five of his colleagues as agents/officers and as members of the charity on October 2013. All of the orders were appealed by the recipients to the Charity Tribunal.
During this period, the Commission also continued working with the charity’s trustees to improve the charity’s governance. This included issuing regulatory guidance to support and guide the charity, ultimately helping support the:
- reinstatement of full access to the charity bank account
- release of a lifeboat from PSNI custody
- reaffirmation of membership based on agreement to a code of conduct
In March 2014, the Commission determined the charity was in a better position to manage its membership internally. Having reviewed its position, the Commission did not oppose the appeals of the five members in the Charity Tribunal.
The appeal against the Commission’s order to remove the trustee continued, with the Charity Tribunal decision ultimately upholding the Commission’s order and detailing eleven counts of mismanagement in relation to the removed trustee. This decision and the associated findings are published at www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Judicial%20Decisions/Charity_Tribunal_Decisions
In its ruling, the Charity Tribunal stated: “There is no prospect of [the removed trustee] productively contributing to the administration of the affairs of the Charity”, further noting “unless [he] is removed from office, there will be further conflict and disharmony in the management of the Charity.”
The Commission’s inquiry concluded that, following the removal of a trustee and work undertaken by the charity’s trustees in accordance with Commission guidance, the charity is now being managed effectively.
Myles McKeown, Head of Enquiries and Compliance at the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, said:
“While the Commission is pleased to publish its first statutory inquiry report, marking another step forward in its development as regulator, the report also acts a timely reminder of the importance of good governance within charities.
“Where possible, the Commission will look to work with charities to resolve issues and restore good governance. However, as this case highlights, where appropriate to the level of risk involved, we will not hesitate to take the required, robust action.
“The Commission’s aim in instituting a statutory inquiry into Lough Neagh Rescue – one of the biggest enquiries undertaken to date - was always to improve the governance of the charity so that it can operate effectively and independently as a life saving organisation.
“As well as taking more stringent measures in removing a trustee, the Commission also advised and guided trustees in how to improve the charity’s governance.
“The Commission is satisfied that, at the conclusion of this inquiry, the registered charity Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd has returned to good governance.”
For more information please contact Shirley Kernan, Charity Commission for Northern Ireland Communications Officer, on telephone: 028 3832 0169, mobile: 07827338978 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland, established under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
The Commission has statutory objectives to ensure trustees comply with their legal obligations in managing charities, and to increase public trust and confidence in charities. This includes a statutory function to identify and investigate apparent misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities, and to take remedial or protective action.