In the course of an ongoing statutory inquiry, the Charity Commission have removed a trustee from her role and banned her from trusteeship permanently, after she failed to respond appropriately to serious abuse within the Rigpa Fellowship. This follows the disqualification of another of the charity's trustees for a period of eight years in April 2019.
The Charity Commission engaged with the Rigpa Fellowship in 2017 over concerns about safeguarding of Rigpa Fellowship students, which was then escalated to a statutory inquiry into the charity in 2018. The Rigpa Fellowship is a charitable trust based in London, which aims to advance the Buddhist religion. In order to carry out this aim, Rigpa provides human resources and facilities for education and religious activities, including training and courses in meditation and compassion.
The statutory enquiry found that the trustee; 'had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity, but failed to take appropriate action in response'. This has led the Commission to find that the trustee; 'either failed to recognise or sought to downplay the seriousness of allegations, and is responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.'
On this occasion the Charity Commission has exercised the power to permanently disqualify the trustee from serving as a trustee or senior manager of any charity in England and Wales, under section 178 of the Charities Act.
This case highlights the safeguarding obligations that affect charity. The Commission’s report on the Rigpa Fellowship has yet to be published but is expected to reveal further details about the disqualification of the two trustees.
However what is clear from the Charity Commission’s decision is its focus on ensuring charity trustees protect those their charities come into contact with, and with this the possible personal consequences for charity trustees who fail to do so.