LONDON: Charity Commission statutory inquiry into The Ashley Foundation finds serious financial wrongdoing, including private benefit, prompting the regulator to disqualify key trustees and the former CEO.
An investigation into a homeless charity has found evidence of serious financial mismanagement, and evidence that the charity’s funds were used to benefit the charity’s former CEO and former trustees.
The Ashley Foundation was registered as a charity in 1997 and operates hostels and flats for homeless people in Blackpool, Sunderland and Blackburn.
The inquiry finds that the former trustees sold off several of the charity’s properties housing vulnerable homeless people, before entering into highly disadvantageous agreements with a third party to manage those same properties. In one instance, former trustee Ashley Dribben personally received £40,000 for his involvement in the transaction.
The inquiry also identified significant personal benefit, including the use of thousands of pounds of charity funds on the repair and upkeep of personal properties belonging to former CEO Lee Dribben and his son Ashley.
The inquiry further found that Lee Dribben used charity expenses on luxury travel and meals, including over £3000 on a three-night trip to London, with first class travel and meals at Le Caprice and the Wolseley Hotel. On the same trip, £45 was claimed for a bottle of wine at a restaurant in Covent Garden.
Charity money was also inappropriately spent on luxury items including Apple Watches, flat screen TVs and silk sheets, which the former CEO claimed were gifts for associates.
On one occasion, Lee Dribben used the charity’s funds to purchase a Spymaster tracking system, which the inquiry was told was used to surveil individuals during contract negotiations with the charity. The report notes that the inquiry did not accept this was appropriate use of the charity’s funds, and that “covert activity is unacceptable” for a charity.
The regulator’s report stresses that the charity’s current trustees have taken action to rectify governance problems, including in successfully re-acquiring the sold properties and terminating the agreements. The Commission is now satisfied the appropriate controls are in place to safeguard the charity’s assets moving forward.
The Commission concluded that there was serious misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of The Ashley Foundation, and took action to disqualify Lee Dribben and Ashley Dribben from charity trusteeships and senior management for 15 years, and former chair of the charity, David Kam, for 10 years.
The Commission also used its powers to safeguard the charity’s assets, by freezing bank accounts and preventing further sale of property. The inquiry referred its concerns about potential criminality to Lancashire police.
Amy Spiller, Head of Investigations at the Commission, said:
Our investigation found that the former trustees and CEO misused this charity and received significant unauthorised personal benefit from funds intended to help vulnerable homeless people.
Trustees must use their charity’s funds to further the charity’s purposes and ensure there are robust financial and controls in place to stop the abuse of these funds.
I commend the current board of trustees for identifying the serious wrongdoing and initiating action to put the charity’s house in order. I hope that their work, and our intervention, means the charity is now able to deliver on its charitable purposes to help the homeless across Blackpool, Sunderland and Blackburn.