Stanbridge Earls School, based in Romsey, Hampshire, provided boarding for children aged between 11 and 19 with special needs, but it went into administration on 3 September 2013 after a number of allegations of sexual abuse of pupils came to light.
In April 2013, the commission opened an inquiry into the school to establish whether the trustees had fulfilled their duties properly. An inquiry report, published on 1 December 2014, concluded that “decisions taken by the trustee body…were all within the range of reasonable decisions open to them at the relevant time. The that report was subsequently taken down and another was published on 22 December last year.
The second report was subsequently taken down from the commission’s website and an assessment case was opened in February this year to determine whether adjustments to the report were required or whether it was necessary to reopen the inquiry.
The commission said in a statement today that it had been informed by Hampshire Safeguarding Children Board on 2 October that the serious case review raised a number of concerns regarding the management and administration of the charity and its approach to the safeguarding of beneficiaries.
These findings were added to the information already being considered by the commission under the existing assessment case and led to the opening of this statutory inquiry. The inquiry was opened on 6 October. The commission said although the charity is no longer operating, it considered it was nevertheless in the public interest to open an investigation.
The commission said that the issues the inquiry will examine include whether the trustees had sufficient oversight of the school’s management of safeguarding matters in order to discharge their legal duties and responsibilities as charity trustees, and whether the charity had adequate record-keeping procedures and practices, in particular before January 2013 and in relation to the recording and reporting of safeguarding concerns.
The commission said in a statement that the purpose of the inquiry was not to re-examine specific allegations of abuse and safeguarding incidents, but to examine whether the trustees “fulfilled their legal duties and responsibilities as charity trustees”.
A spokesman for Stanbridge Earls School said that it was unable to comment before our publication deadline.
Tom Perry, the founder of MandateNow, a pressure group that seeks to make it mandatory for people such as teachers or care workers to report to local authorities any concerns about the welfare of children and vulnerable adults, told Third Sector: “This inquiry originally started on 3 April 2013. It has been removed twice from the Charity Commission website for amendment. It has now been relaunched, which suggests the previous conclusions it reached – the exoneration of the trustees from financial failure – may have been too narrow given the additional terms of reference announced today.”
It is the commission’s policy to publish a report after it has concluded an inquiry.
Quite how the Charity Commission can claim this is a new inquiry serves to confuse because a statutory inquiry was commissioned on the 3 April 2013 as the article above correctly states.
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Here is a copy of the report published on the 1st December 2014.
It was taken down from the site shortly afterwards and reappeared on the 22nd December in amended form. Here it is.
It concluded that the decisions taken by the Trustee body, with specific regard to the Tribunal action and subsequent engagement with the DfE and Ofsted were all within the range of reasonable decisions open to them at the relevant time. As the Charity went into administration before the Final Plan was assessed by the DfE and Ofsted the commission is unable to draw any conclusions regarding the Trustees’ ability to take sufficient steps to address the safeguarding and leadership concerns as identified by Ofsted to the satisfaction of the DfE.
Yet again this report was removed from the Charity Commission website in February which led to this article in Third Sector magazine and then to today’s press release. The Charity commission seems to be attempting to rewrite history.
It is hoped that the Charity Commission reaches evidenced conclusions on the widened terms of reference in this relaunched inquiry. Lets hope this is its final attempt.