One of the UK's oldest animal welfare charities has been accused of going on a spending spree after it was left £3.5m in a will. In addition to a backdated pay hike for all staff, the funds also went on a failed prosecution, foreign travel and hotel bills.
The League Against Cruel Sports, which led the campaign to ban hunting in the country, had received a bequest from Stan Hales, an industrialist who died in 2013. The Times reported that the charity gave its entire staff a minimum 10% pay rise which was backdated.
It also wasted £25,000 in a private prosecution against six members of the Lamerton Hunt for illegal hunting on Dartmoor. This was despite the fact that police had dropped the inquiry.
The newspaper said that the case collapsed after it came to light that prosecution witness Stephen Harris had close links to the charity, Professor Harris has stressed that he would never say anything that he did not believe and that the charity had not asked him to do so. The Times said that the league's trustees privately accepted years ago that the organisation was too reliant on Professor Harris as an expert witness.
The Times said that a whistleblower at the charity had volunteered to give evidence of suspected non-compliance on a range of issues but the Charity Commission declined to be involved, saying that the spending decisions and administration of charities were decisions for the trustees.
The regulator declined to look at internal emails, invoices, payroll documents and minutes from the meetings of trustees. "It does not appear that the issues raised are matters in which we are able to become involved," it said. "Whilst the issues which you have raised relate to the application of the charity's funds, the decision-making process of how to apply the charity's funds rests with the trustees of the charity."
The Times noted that two whistleblowers have been dismissed. In addition, the charity had also sacked its president, lawyer John Cooper after he raised questions.
The newspaper said that the charity had regularly sent its vice-president Bill Oddie, with teams to Malta to campaign against the shooting of wild animals, despite the fact that the charity is listed as operating only in the UK. The League has defended its Maltese expenditure, saying that the birds had been flying towards Britain.
Further, corporate charge cards records show that the charity spent £700 on flights for one trip to Malta and that hundreds more were spent on cars on the island, according to a source. The allegations have been denied by the charity.
A spokesman for the charity denied that any individual had been dismissed or faced detrimental treatment for whistleblowing. He also said that a thorough investigation was conducted and that no wrongdoing was uncovered.
It explained that Cooper was removed after he exceeded the expected three year tenure and that the trustees wanted change. It also disputed his version of events pertaining to former employees. The League also insisted: "We have not spent any of Mr Hales's generous bequest." The Times however claimed that it has seen internal financial papers that showed part of the legacy was used to cover spending deficits.