Serious misconduct took place in a British charity set up to support asylum seekers in France, a watchdog has found.
Care4Calais lacked appropriate governance structures, had poor internal financial controls and its approach to handling complaints was inadequate, the Charity Commission concluded after a three-year investigation.
During the commission’s inquiry, charity founder Clare Moseley – who had also been a trustee and its chief executive – stepped down.
The commission concluded that the charity had historically not been managed well, but that its management and governance have now “improved significantly” after the intervention by the regulator as well as efforts by the current new set of trustees.
Among its findings, the inquiry said hundreds of thousands of pounds in payments had previously been made to Ms Moseley’s personal bank account – an arrangement it described as “inappropriate”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the findings were “concerning but not particularly surprising”, adding that “some charities and civil society groups are actively undermining efforts to curb illegal migration”.
Between October 2017 and August 2020, payments of more than £340,000 were made to the account, the commission said, adding that Ms Moseley had explained that this arrangement saved the charity around £3,000 per year in foreign exchange fees.
The regulator’s inquiry concluded that while no funds were misused or misappropriated for private benefit, the arrangement was “inappropriate and had put the charity’s funds at undue risk”.
Responding to the findings, Ms Moseley said she had “always followed the advice of our lawyers, accountants and auditors in the running of Care4Calais” and that independent accountants and auditors “have always given clean reports on our accounts”.
Alongside Ms Moseley, another of the charity’s former trustees was her sister and the commission said its inquiry “found little evidence to demonstrate that any past conflicts of interest or loyalty which may have existed had been appropriately managed”.
The regulator said the situation was worsened by poor minute-taking and that overall this had amounted to “misconduct and/or mismanagement”.
There was also a finding of misconduct and/or mismanagement in relation to the number of trustees the charity had – operating with just two between 2020 and 2021.
The commission said that a dispute between board members left them unwilling or unable to resolve their conflict, and additional trustees were subsequently put in place during the inquiry.
Previous handling of complaints was also branded inadequate, with at least one example of a trustee having handled a complaint about another trustee who was a relative and “failing to identify or manage the conflict of interest and/or loyalty which arose”.
Orlando Fraser, chairman of the Charity Commission, said: “Our inquiry found that, over a significant period of time, and following a rapid expansion of its operations, Care4Calais was not managed well. Its funds were put at risk, and there was serious misconduct and/or mismanagement by the former trustees.”
He said the charity is now “in a much better position to deliver on its purposes”.
The commission also said the charity’s decision to get involved in judicial review proceedings challenging Government plans to deport some migrants to Rwanda had been “properly made, adequately documented, and was within the range of reasonable decisions open to the trustees of this charity”.
Mr Fraser added that he was “very aware” the charity’s work had “generated attention and controversy” but insisted the regulator would “not be influenced by political debates, nor should we stop charities from furthering their purposes in line with the law set down by Parliament”.
Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais, said that the charity now works with an “entirely new board of trustees who all acknowledge that the growth in our humanitarian work since 2015 vastly outpaced the development of the charity’s governance structures”.
He added: “As a charity dedicated to helping those in need, our new trustees have taken the criticisms of previous governance shortcomings seriously, and are dedicated to learning from the past, embracing change, and making Care4Calais a symbol of hope and compassion.
“Despite the challenges of the inquiry, our commitment to support refugees never wavered. I am eternally grateful to all our volunteers and staff who kept our humanitarian work going throughout this period, enabling the charity to continue growing.
“We welcome the conclusion of the inquiry and the opportunity that brings to mould this important charity into a new and forward-looking organisation that puts refugees front and centre of our work.”
Ms Moseley said Care4Calais had “helped hundreds of thousands of refugees in the UK and France”.
She added: “For every refugee that said ‘You gave me hope when I had none’, our work was worth it.
“That work was delivered by thousands of volunteers whom I have worked alongside under the most adverse of conditions.
“I will forever be in awe of their commitment and selflessness.
“I am proud to have worked many long hours as an unpaid volunteer to grow Care4Calais from a grass roots project to a charity that now has a £2 million turnover and over £1 million in assets.”
Ms Braverman said: “The Charity Commission finding serious misconduct at Care4Calais is concerning but not particularly surprising.
“As with certain immigration lawyers, it’s clear that some charities and civil society groups are actively undermining efforts to curb illegal migration.
“They form part of an establishment committed to ever-increasing migration, with no regard for the will of the British people.
“These groups are comprised of politically motivated activists masquerading as ‘humanitarians’. It is a con. But the British public won’t be fooled.”