Trustees struck off over £320k theft of funds

Founding trustees of Jole Rider Friends have been disqualified after they paid themselves almost a quarter of funds raised by their charity

Two of the founding trustees, David Swettenham and Helen King, at the children’s education charity have been disqualified by the Charity Commission for taking unauthorised payment of £322,500 from charity funds.

The trustees have been disqualified from acting as a trustee or in senior management role of a charity for 12 years.

The Charity Commission has found the pair guilty of serious misconduct and/or mismanagement in their handling of the charity’s finances and governance, as well as for failures to comply with warnings from the Commission.

Jole Rider Friends was set up to advance education, by providing facilities and equipment at schools and other educational institutions in Africa. Since the scandal, the charity has been wound up.

The Commission first got involved with the charity in 2015, identifying it only had two trustees. Further enquiries revealed other serious concerns including that the trustees were paid, contravening their own constitution. At the time, the trustees refused to repay the amount they had taken.

The trustees had also failed to submit accounts, annual reports and returns on time. In December 2016, the Advertising Standards Agency ruled the charity had made misleading claims about their charity operations on the charity’s website.

The Commission opened a statutory inquiry to examine matters further in September 2017 and on the same day issued two orders to restrict the charity’s bank from releasing property belonging to the charity and to restrict the trustees from using the charity’s credit card.

By that point the founding trustees had received unauthorised pay of £322,500, equating to 23% of all income received by the charity since it began.

The inquiry found that the charity claimed that it had sent 13,697 bicycles to Africa, but could not provide any documents to prove that charity funds were used for this purpose.

The charity was also insolvent as a result of rent arrears and County Court proceedings had been brought against the trustees for unpaid debts owed by the charity.

Amy Spiller, head of investigations team at the Charity Commission, said: ‘The trustees of the Jole Rider grossly misused charity in paying themselves unauthorised remuneration and in doing so, they betrayed their donors as well as those that could have benefited from this charitable support.

‘Their behaviour throughout, both in the running of their charity, as well as during this inquiry, was a world apart from that expected of trustees. It is therefore right that both trustees have been disqualified for the part they played in this matter.

'It is a legitimate expectation that trustees take their responsibilities seriously. This starts with trustees ensuring charitable funds are spent on the charity’s aims and purpose.'

The charity was removed from the charity register on 13 September 2019 and was wound up by an interim manager appointed to the charity on a pro bono basis.

Charity Inquiry: Jole Rider Friends

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