ON THE eve of Remembrance Sunday, a war heroes’ fundraising organisation whose questionable ethics were exposed in the News & Mail has been suspended by the UK and Wales Charity Commission.
The decision follows further investigation after our report in August about Support The Heroes, which has a similar looking logo to – but certainly not to be confused with – the better-known Help The Heroes.
A former serviceman had contacted this newspaper with grave concerns over the charity’s moral intentions after seeing representatives collecting money from the public at Woking’s Peacocks Shopping Centre.
Mr Mackenzie from Knaphill, who served in the Royal Navy for 11 years and has since been working for a community emergency service, feared Support The Heroes was misrepresenting itself, at the expense of other better known, ethical good causes.
“While I don’t believe Support the Heroes is acting against the law, I do believe their collection to donation ration is immoral,” cited Mr Mackenzie. “For that reason, I feel the public needs to be made aware before they donate.”
Based in Preston, Lancashire, Support the Heroes is registered as a charity (1155853/12 February 2014), and the accounts it is required to declare seem above board. It would also appear that, given the disproportionate amount of funds held back ‘for charitable giving at some point in the future’, the organisation was not breaking the law.
However, when compared with other, similar forces charities, questions of transparency and ethics came to the fore.
While the charity’s sentiments appeared plausible, its ownership remained unclear. It comes after Pauline White, a trustee and signatory to the accounts, was not known to Moore & Smalley, the chartered accountants in Preston representing Support the Heroes’ financial affairs.
Woking Shopping drew it’s ‘relationship with this charity to a close.’
BBC Scotland TV producer Liam McDougall picked up the report from the News & Mail website. He contacted the newspaper for more information and contacts, and subsequently filmed an undercover investigation into the practices of Support the Heroes and other similarly suspect military charities.
Aired on 8 November, the programme, The Great Military Charity Scandal showed fundraisers saying they were working for free and claiming 100% of the money donated by the public was given to veterans’ causes.
The charity later acknowledged that its workers were in fact paid commission. It also issued a statement admitting that it would be wrong for them to say that all the donations went on helping current and past British Forces members, when fundraiser commission, payments to a management company and running costs still had to be deducted.
Two days later, the Charity Commission opened a statutory inquiry into Support the Heroes. It investigated public concerns about fundraising activities conducted on its behalf, and the management of conflicts of interest and arrangements with a professional fundraiser.
Last week, the watchdog issued a statement saying: “The Commission has directed the charity to suspend fundraising activities until further notice and issued a freezing order on assets held directly by the charity or on its behalf.
“The decision to open the statutory inquiry follows on from the Commission’s recent preliminary investigation into the charity’s activities.”
Support the Heroes insisted it was not a ‘fake’ or ‘fraud’ charity but registered and compliant with the Charity Commission and its guidelines. It also stated that ‘contributions are accounted for and none are or ever have been misappropriated’.
Yet the charity pays a third of everything it raises to Targeted Management Ltd, a firm run by Tony Chadwick, from Blackpool, who is linked to a network of veterans’ charities that have raised millions but spent only a fraction on soldiers. He is also being investigated over conflict of interest because Support the Heroes is run by two of his ex-business partners.
Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross stated: “There are unscrupulous people who seek to pervert and exploit the generosity of the public for their personal benefit. We have warned charities that this dishonest or unethical behaviour by their fundraisers damages public trust and confidence.”
Another company run by Mr Chadwick, called Prize Promotions Ltd, was set up by mums of troops killed in Afghanistan. It has raised £3.1million but passed on only £250,000 to projects supporting veterans.
The commission is trying to claw back £2.9million from Prize Promotions, a discredited professional fundraiser wound up on 18 December 2015.
Lucy Aldridge, whose son William, 18, was the youngest UK soldier to die in the Afghan war, said: “Any Tom, Dick or Harry can set up a military charity. This has allowed some very unsavoury individuals to exploit the public’s generosity.”
Mr Chadwick denies any wrongdoing. He said: “All the fundraising followed standard practices within the industry.”