Trouble at the RSPCA, BBC Panorama Program

Average Reading Time: 17 mins

On Thursday 3rd of August the Beeb, shown a program – Panorama – Trouble at the RSPCA – this program was advertised showing issues with ‘being heavy-handed by prosecuting them and taking away their animals” also within the 30 min program was shown ex-staff of the RSPCA and ex-staff of the Charity Commission.

To go into detail the program shown three examples of people accusing the charity of being heavy handed with prosecutions – I have no doubt the RSPCA were correct to prosecute in all three cases! Since the program the RSPCA has released statements on each case – which the BBC should have sought prior to publishing the program and explained in better detail.

62 Cats in one house

62 Cats – don’t protect this persons feelings – that womans was a hoarder – if provided with advice by the RSPCA (where she used to work, so knows what it takes) and that was ignored then yes she should have been prosecuted to reduce those numbers down. The woman is now refusing to accept the court conviction and trying to claim against the RSPCA – a ridiculous notion which her solicitors should have advised against due to cost – even when she knows the RSPCA were advised by her VET1 of the situation! I play with my cat at least an hour a day and she has FIV and herpes, something some of those cats will have also had. All cats should be monitored for temp, weight, toilet habits and how much she is eating, as they don’t show signs of distress as easily as other animals – this couldn’t be done with SIXTY TWO of them along with other animals too!

Yaay maths time; let’s say you needed to spend just 10mins with each cat a day (be that grooming on a monday, weighing on a tues, claw clipping wed etc) thats 10.5 HOURS A DAY!!! That doesn’t even include feeding or litter cleaning and 10mins per day doing anything with a cat is not really enough, not to mention she had other “pets” too! Articles also state “She doesn’t have the inclination or the means to inoculate them”2 so the cats didn’t even have the needed vaccinations to protect them from the virus prevalent in the house!

The show implied it was just her and there were no others in the house with her to spread the tasks to, nor did the show or any other media advise of any paid help either. So unless this woman is some form of McFly then an average person wouldn’t be able to provide a suitable domestic environment. What if they were allowed out too, it makes no comment if they were house cats – how could you do any tasks needed and monitor 62 cats you didn’t even know if they’d been in the house, advertising as a ‘sanctuary’ you’d like to think they weren’t roaming the streets!!!

This is a clean cut case! Hoarding to the point of Cruelty is still Cruelty, regardless of intentions!

Essentially what Panorama have done here is provide validity to people who have abused animals to say – i’m allowed to and shouldn’t be stopped. The BBC should not have allowed the program to air.


too many allegations are thrown his way and I agree the governance doesn’t sound correct! He should step down to protect the charity from further disrepute coming from his involvement


changes since the 70s but only after charity had correclty gone through a governace review 34

Barristers – known people who have protected animal abusers – why the hell would the RSPCA not make complaints about someone who is supposed to have a moral requirement to uphold the law and the law is the Animal Welfare Act.

ex-CE of the Charity Commission involved in the show is not appropriate and not acceptable that a person in such a position involves themselves regarding a specific charity – along with putting their names to a program which tried to make animal abusers seem like they’re disadvantaged by prosecution.

Heavy handed with prosecutions – no chance – 1 in 200 prosecuted is nowhere near enough! Don’t be ridiculous!


Sensitisation is poor reporting! This is clear from the advert directly after the program asking “Is it possible that a pill prescribed by your doctor can turn you into a killer?” – this question is clearly worded in a manner not suited to unbiased publishing and is the TV version of Clickbait! Its well known Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors remove some emotion, obviously, their main aim is to reduce depression and work by stopping serotonin from being reabsorbed – so it builds up within the body rather than being removed by the body. One of the most prescribed medications in america Prozac is an SSSI medication. Medication does not make people kill, medication removes the depression which held them back from killing and increases their emotional state and motivation to do what makes them happy, sadly some people are psychopaths – you cannot blame the medication but the services that went with it, anyone on high doses of medication or with severe depression should be receiving frequent therapy to guide them and make certain they’re not going down dangerous paths (even then most people who have a want to murder don’t go telling people about it!)  The author of this received much backlash on Twitter, and rightfully so – Correlation does not mean Causation – every journalist should have this tattooed on their wrist.

Transcript of the Program - Click Here

Tonight the animal owners who claimed that one of our best loved charities is being too hard on them. It is the way they handle things. It is their away or the highway. The British public backs the RSPCA to prosecute animal cruelty, but does it always get it right? To be told I was mistreating birds of prey has left me feeling absolutely broken. And is the charity so determined to succeed it ignores the human cost? It went on for years and years, and it ground me down. I still feel injured. Former RSPCA insiders worry there is chaos at the top. I personally think that the RSPCA commentary is not fit for purpose.

We ask is the world’s oldest animal charity doing its best to keep public trust? We love our animals. My dog is called Bertie. Shall we go for a run? He is going to be my sidekick on this investigation. Or is it the other way around? Where is the stick, Bertie? He’s half toy poodle and half whippet, so he will keep me on my toes. Sometimes… It feels like he’s the master and I’m the dog. Woofety woof woof woof. Some animals don’t get love and affection like Bertie. That is why we need the RSPCA. The RSPCA has a full-scale rescue service…

It has been standing up for animals since 1824. The RSPCA gets more than 100 million per year in donations and legacies. Its inspectors see some extremely distressing sights. From stray dogs shown in this campaign video, outright cruelty. All of these dogs, filmed by an inspector, died. Many of them are in rigor mortis already. The RSPCA prosecuted the dog breeders who did this. They didn’t go to jail but were banned for life from owning dogs. The charity’s most powerful weapon in protecting animals is bringing private prosecutions. But some animal owners complain it is being too heavy-handed. This is the RSPCA headquarters here in Sussex. Critics say the charity has long been too quick to prosecute animal owners and too aggressive. Three years ago in independent report took the charity to task over the way it prosecutes people. How much has changed?

Good morning. This is Bertie. Hello, Bertie. Steve Rainton has been displaying birds of prey for 20 years. He is now helped by his partner, Natalie. Amazing, we’ve had her for five years. Stand well back… Last year Steve and Natalie faced getting criminal records when they were prosecuted by the RSPCA. Good girl. Steve said it all started when somebody he knew took four birds from his farm. Worried the rest of the birds were at risk Steve took them home in cages for temporary safekeeping and rang the RSPCA. Originally we asked the RSPCA for some help. Where we were keeping the birds wasn’t safe and we needed somewhere else to keep the birds. What Steve didn’t know was that the RSPCA had received a complaint about him mistreating the birds. When inspectors called at his home he let them in. He wished he hadn’t. Once they were in they started taking photographs, you know, trying to gather evidence against me. And that’s the way I felt bullied by the RSPCA. RSPCA inspectors do not have powers of seizure, so they called the police who took Steve’s birds away. Steve was charged by the RSPCA with eight animal welfare offences. Natalie, who does not own the birds, also faced eight charges. They used my partner. They basically said they would drop all charges against my partner if I took the rap, basically. I’d never broken the law. I’ve never been in trouble. To be told I was mistreating birds of prey, it just left me feeling… Absolutely broken. Earlier this year magistrates cleared Steve and Natalie of two charges. The other 14 were dismissed. The RSPCA says it is because of police mistakes. The whole thing of them being there to help you, in my case, wasn’t the case. Up until the day they knocked on my front door while we saw them as a good charity. The RSPCA said it acted properly and lawfully throughout. There was sufficient evidence. And that it was in the public interest.

It says it prosecuted around 800 people last year, down by 50% in four years. If an RSPCA inspector investigates a complaint of cruelty, that person has less than one chance in 200 of being prosecuted. Certainly not trigger-happy. Most of it is now dealt with by way of advisory notices and warnings. In fact most of it is dealt with by a reasonable conversation on the doorstep. Giving reasonable advice. Reasonable people take reasonable advice. The RSPCA and its inspectors do good work. No question. And criticising a much loved animal charity may not make me popular. But what can happen to an animal owner if there is no reasonable conversation on the doorstep? If no advice is given?

Gwyn Protheroe farms over 5000 sheep in mid Wales. These sheepdogs are working animals. Without them he cannot do his job. Last year the RSPCA prosecuted Gwyn following the death of one of his dogs. She was a working dog. It’s not clear why she died. But she was thin and had been a small dog from birth. From the vet’s report and postmortem done by the RSPCA they found a problem with her liver and her heart. The dog lay unburied for two days. She died while Gwyn was working 60 miles away. An RSPCA inspector called the police, who removed the dead dog and two of the sheepdogs. The RSPCA said he hadn’t done enough to prevent the death and that living conditions were poor. He was charged with three animal welfare offences. It’s the way they handled things, you know? It is their way or the highway, basically, you know? The case took a year to come to court and had a big effect on the family. What was it like when he was charged? Scary. It wasn’t a nice feeling. I felt really bad for dad because he isn’t a bad person. He didn’t really, like, deserve it. What did you say to them? That it would all be all right? Which it was proved, wasn’t it? I’m sorry… A judge dismissed the case, saying Gwyn has considerable expertise as an animal owner and acted reasonably. How did you feel when that verdict came through not guilty on all counts? Relieved. A sense of justice. Because he was cleared the dogs should have been returned. But, extraordinary as it seems, they were not. RSPCA staff asked if they could keep the dogs and re-homed them. I got a phone call, she asked the question again, the people in the kennels have got attached to the dogs. The RSPCA said it kept hold of the dogs while it considered to appeal. It would be two months before they found out if they would get their dogs back. I couldn’t work out why they wanted to keep, again, prolonging the process of us getting the dogs back. You keep thinking everything is coming to a close. But it was like they were ripping the wound open again. The RSPCA says it was right to prosecute. And while some cases don’t succeed 92.5% of its prosecutions are successful.

There is very, very rigorous process by which the evidence is checked to make sure we meet the evidential test. We get the experts in, we depend on an independent veterinary opinion as to the degree of suffering. Once the matter goes to court it is for the magistrate to convict or acquit. Fighting animal cruelty is important but has the RSPCA sometimes gone too far? Barrister Jonathan Rich stopped defending RSPCA cases nine years ago. I gained a firm impression that I was really being personally targeted. It reached a stage where my involvement in cases was actually not helping my clients, because they would throw significant resources at any case in which I was involved. He also faced a number of professional misconduct complaints linked to animal welfare cases. Two from the RSPCA. I have seen a lot of the rough and tumble of the bar. But this was in an entirely different league. And it went on for years and years and years, and it ground me down. I still feel today, I still feel injured. None of the complaints succeeded. One from the RSPCA took eight years to be fully resolved. I got pretty low. I was treated for depression. I’m not embarrassed to say that. Do you still defend animal cases? If the RSPCA are involved I will not be appearing as an advocate. Which is a great shame, given the expertise I believe I brought. Barrister Sara-Lise Howe believes she has been singled out, too. She says the CPS was warned she wanted to undermine RSPCA private prosecutions. I have no doubt that they have been targeting me. I was 16 years in court, I’d never had these accusations. Just trying to represent my client. To get the court to look at the law. The RSPCA says the criticism to the CPS about Sara-Lise Howe was made in error and nnot at their request. It respects and upholds the vital role played by defence lawyers in testing the prosecution’s case. For the RSPCA to do its job properly it must be well run.

This June the Chief Executive Jeremy Cooper resigned. The second to do so in three years. Trouble at the top should be a worry for any charity. If I am a donor I want to know my money is going to be well spent. And the chances are significantly higher that my money as a donor is going to be well spent if the charity is well governed, well led, sound decisions are made. The RSPCA staff are overseen by 25 unpaid trustee is called the council. They are supposed to keep an eye on things, not run the show.

One of the key rules, really, is that trustees in a large charity shouldn’t really dabble in operational matters. That is for paid staff. But we’ve discovered that’s what’s been going on at the RSPCA. Chris Lawrence used to be the charity’s chief vet before he became a trustee. The RSPCA are essentially is a great organisation. Fantastic staff who work incredibly hard. But you come to a point where you have to say enough is enough, I can’t any longer support the way this is happening. I had real concerns about the way the RSPCA was being run at council level. He’s never spoken publicly about leaving the charity he loves. The Council found it really difficult to properly delegate. What does that mean? It means almost micromanagement. Chris Laurence resigned as a trustee last year. His fellow trustee, David Canavan, is still there. The RSPCA spends £50 million a year responding to complaints from the general public about abuse of animals. He’s speaking to MPs about fundraising. The two years, the RSPCA allowed him and another trustee to run the charity unpaid, while it was without a chief executive. For any charity, doing both jobs at the same time, for such a long time, would be a no-no. For a large charity, that is off the bscale, in terms of being so unusual. I find it difficult to see how a large charity could properly run itself if it doesn’t have a permanent chief executive who is independent from the nonexecutive trustee team. This is the Manchester Animal Hospital, the RSPCA’s busiest. It provides extremely subsidised neutering, micro-chipping, vaccinations, to quite a poor -ish area within Manchester. Three years ago, Steve Carter was asked to look at redistributing some of its vet services to branches across the North of England. Among them, Rochdale, 16 miles away. It was a branch that struggled financially. It tried to do the best it could, but it overextended itself. Steve Carter says getting more vet services could have helped Rochdale’s finances and says David Canavan was keen on the move. At the time, he was also an unpaid trustee of the Rochdale branch. That’s a conflict-of-interest, isn’t it? I believe it is. I made it very clear to trustees and two senior management that this was not a decision I could support in any way, shape or form. Steve feared it could have meant closure for the Manchester Animal Hospital. I did not want to see that provision deteriorate in any shape or form. That was one of the main reasons that I decided I had to leave the RSPCA. The RSPCA says it did discuss its Northern operations. No changes were made and there was never any suggestion the Manchester hospital would close. It says there was no improper interference by David Canavan and as acting chief executive he oversaw a period of stability and sound management.

Brighton, a stone’s throw from RSPCA HQ. We’ve been told that what happened here reveals more cracks behind the scenes. Nationally, the RSPCA has a policy against anyone importing dogs for commercial purposes. But here in Brighton, the local branch was re-homed scores of dogs from Spain and Portugal in apparent conflict with that policy. Around 150 dogs over three years were imported by another animal welfare organisation, and brought to these RSPCA kennels. They were then re-homed. The Brighton branch had lots of British Staffies, which are hard to home, and was keen to offer a mix of breeds. The RSPCA said the dogs were not being imported for commercial purposes. The RSPCA told us the Brighton branch didn’t profit from re-homing these animals, but we found out the issue did worry some staff. They couldn’t support others transporting animals hundreds of miles across Europe, when there were plenty of British dogs to help at home. Trustee David Canavan got involved in 2014. At the time he was also effectively running the charity. We understand that David Canavan told the branch that so long as 40% of the dogs in my kennels were brought to them by inspectors, they could fill the remaining space is how they wanted, providing the trustees and legal department didn’t object. The RSPCA said any suggestion David Canavan acted contrary to its policies is completely untrue. He referred the matter to the Chief Vet and the RSPCA revised its policy, so the branch had to get permission on a case-by-case basis. It says the branch was trying to help as many unwanted dogs as it could, and its main focus remains local animals. At the top is the RSPCA a smoothly running organisation? I personally think that the RSPCA, currently, is not fit for purpose. I think it stems from the background of counsel. I don’t think the government process and structure has moved on much since the 1970s. Wipe-out this is the headquarters of the Charity Commission, it’s the body charged with making sure our charities are up to snuff. It told Panorama that the RSPCA’s governance is below the standard it would expect from a modern charity. It is monitoring the trustees’ role in leading change will consider regulatory action if the required improvements aren’t made quickly enough. The RSPCA says its trustees are working with the Charity Commission to implement the recommendations of a recent independent review. The RSPCA has its own reform agenda.

It wants for more powers to investigate, so it has to rely less on the police. Its supporters say only the charity has the necessary expertise and resources to prosecute. Critics argue it should be left to the police. The type of cruelty that the public disapproves of is obvious. It doesn’t require a specialist organisation to prosecute. I’m on my way to see one of Sara-Lise Howe’s clients. Sarah Mellanby lost her appeal against conviction for seven animal welfare offences earlier this year. That some of my cats there. That’s Leonard and Elmo. Puff Daddy, Thomas O’Malley and that’s Hubert. Sarah used to a large home to shelter unwanted cats. So who have we got here? That is Lionel Blair. LAUGHTER I know, super hair. Dennis the Menace, Charles Worthington. Some people would say looking at this that you are a mad cat lady. Yes,

they probably would. Are you a mad cat lady? Guests. Where are your cats? I don’t have any. Four years ago she had more than 60. You had 60 cats, 62 cats. Isn’t that a bit crazy? Well, I’m too soft, I’m just too soft. They were unwanted cats and I was homing them. Some of the cats she took and had cat flu, which is contagious and can be nasty. I kept them and kept them comfortable. It’s not good, but they were alive, they were as well as they could be. The RSPCA, which made repeated visits, disagreed. It says some were emaciated, as well as cat flu others had problems with their eyes and teeth. And it says she failed to seek appropriate care from a vet. All her cats were removed and Sarah was tried and convicted. I think a lot of the people who have had problems with the RSPCA are people who would be described as vulnerable. The mad old lady who takes into many cats, they have got themselves into a mess for caring, because they care too much. I think that is a big difference from someone who delights in seeing an animal suffer. The RSPCA tried to help and advise Sarah. The appeal judge said she was deaf to that advice and the idea that the RSPCA were treating her harshly was not supported by the evidence. But he did reduce her sentence, so, after four years, 21 cats could come home.

A vet who supported Sarah throughout, is no fan of the RSPCA. What does somebody like Sarah do with cats that are left on her doorstep? Take those cats in or discard them, shut the door and leave them to die? What’s the options? Yes, we know that a lot of these cats were chronically infected with cat flu. They have been and they will remain that way. The RSPCA asked the court to make Sarah pay some of their costs. She now has a £100,000 charge on her home, to be paid to the RSPCA when she sells it.

My heart’s been broken. They’ve just warn me down and I’ve been depressed. They’re just like this giant machine that just crawls through people’s lives and they’ve got no way of getting out of it. The RSPCA says it prosecuted as a last resort. It was endorsed by the appeal judge and the Crown Prosecution Service. The costs were high because it took so long to conclude the case, and this was not the RSPCA’s fault. The RSPCA says it only prosecute when mistreatment is serious, cruelty blatant and when other ways to help animal and owner have been exhausted.

Back in Wales, the Protheroes are still waiting to hear if they’ll get their sheepdogs back. Three days after Panorama wrote to the RSPCA, the dogs were finally returned. Can one if you open the door while I left her in, please? Outside the Protheroes’ solicitors… It’s a big relief. It’s nice to see them. They’re looking OK, aren’t you? Hope they’ll be as happy to be home as we are to have them home. The RSPCA says the delay in returning the dogs was lawful and proper, while it decided whether to appeal. For many, including its critics, the

RSPCA remains a great British charity. I think the RSPCA is overall a force for good. The inspectors do good work every single day, there are out there in all conditions. Charity fight the RSPCA depend on more than donations, they also need public support. Public trust and public confidence in the work that charities do will only be sustained if charities are seen to be doing the right thing. That means behaving in a responsible, transparent and accountable way.

The RSPCA says it is committed to continually improving everything it does. But to its critics, it stands accused of being a charity that sometimes lacks charity – to humans.


Why is the Charity Commission ignoring the main poison of the industry?

Average Reading Time: 17 mins

Founders are habitually viewed and treated with eternal appreciation and respect, only to rightly for the majority, but occasionally there are founders who disastrously overstep the mark and turn the organisation they started, into a personal fortress of control and power. I know first-hand the severity of the situation, as I’ve been dealing with it for the last 16 months. The no.1 poison of the Charity sector? Founders Syndrome.

Most nonprofits owe their success and existence to their founders, they have invested many years of their lives which is a substantial investment in what is normally their passion, it is obviously not easy to take a step back or to concede that delegation is the best opportunity for the organisation and spreading of decision making will make the best use of knowledge for their passion. Most founders are brilliant and this is not a brush to even tar 1% of founders, this syndrome is only really an issue for a minute percent, but the problems caused can create chaos in many forms and negatively affect the whole industry.

Let me first of all clarify, in no way am I an expert in any medical fields nor would I say I’m fully versed in this particular syndrome, but I will say we’re dealing with one of the worst kinds of Founder’s Syndrome as we are an Animal Charity, and with a particularly determined and divisive founder.

My experience in the commercial world, gave me a good insight into particular unique quirks of personality and trained me very well in spotting them and managing them, this was a massive benefit in the third sector as I found managing volunteers that much simpler, I put the main reason down to them actually wanting to be there to help rather than for a pay packet, but still my training I had always been told “if you can manage volunteers you can manage anyone” so had expected a lot worse.

A scourge on the Charity Sector?

The reason Founder’s Syndrome is focused on the third sector is due to the problems affecting public funds, which are provided to the charity to support, with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, the cause publicised. While private organisations are supported by private funds having many more regulations enabling recompense for issues caused by their founders, along with the founder’s personal liability for issues and mismanagement. Once a charity is formed it takes on a separate entity to the founder and is its own being, with the publics benefit, trust and accountability. There is no ‘ownership’. Frequently public perception is that the Founder ‘owns’ the charity as they have been consistently reminded of the founders hard work, ignoring all other volunteers who have worked hard for the cause.

The symptoms themselves are by no means confined to charities or just founder-led organisations, they’re also not universal and each founder can display varying levels of symptoms which are normally moulded by the industry they lie in. The control can be sought in personal benefit, inappropriately employing friends and family, possibly with phenomenal compensation packages or fringe benefits. Sometimes it is pure and simply a question of ego, but whichever the symptom or severity, they believe the problems are never their own causing.

The syndrome has many descriptions available for what the indicators are, but I think they can be reduced down to four core symptoms (reworded from Hildy Gottliebs article);

  • sense of superiority, dominance, eminence or ownership
  • inability to or want to delegate
  • unwavering fidelity to their original vision – with ignorance of the effects and mission creep is ignored as it is ‘their’ original vision that is focused on not the constitutional one the charity itself was founded for
  • inability to make a smooth transition

Just some examples of the symptoms, which include many we are facing;

  • Gives short shrift to planning activities, staff meetings, and administrative policies and amends them to suit reasons other than the benefit of the charity;
  • Is reluctant to relinquish strategies and procedures that worked in the past, although circumstances may dictate new approaches;
  • Neglects to institute new systems, even though the board has formally requested them;
  • Seeks and accepts little input from others in making decisions;
  • Sees all challenges as hostile and drives away volunteers, staff and board members perceived as disloyal; and
  • Refuses to delegate any authority;
  • Selects submissive allies/staff who will agree with their campaign and not challenge;
  • Count on whomever seems most loyal and accessible;
  • Motivates by fear and guilt;
  • The board is recruited by the founder, rather than by the board;
  • The board supports the founder, rather than leads the organisation – often due to a lack of understanding, sometimes purposely hidden by the founder to ensure control;
  • Turnover of volunteers, staff and board members is high;
  • Place their personal agendas ahead of the mission;
  • People become afraid of the founder;
  • Threatening that no-one else could complete the task and exaggerating their role.

For a direct example I suggest you watch the public investigation into Kids Company and questioning of Camila Batmanghelidjh, which shows exactly the symptoms to expect when questioned about control, and is exactly what we face with our own founder;

  • Inaccurate and Inconsistent answers to simple questions, masking limited knowledge, or hiding false information,
  • Rambling to questions and side-tracking the information needed – ‘verbal ectoplasm’ is a great description of this and very apt to our founder,
  • Answering the question they want to answer, and not the one what was asked of them – this is normally to self-promote and is easy to answer a question which has been rehearsed than one on the spot,
  • Not admitting any mistakes, blaming others and making excuses – humans are all prone to an amount of error, but by not accepting this its empirical evidence that control has not been delegated efficiently and decisions have not been researched effectively.

I have read from several sources that as denial is a major part of the Syndrome, it is impossible for a founder to defend themselves without concurrently emphasising the symptoms themselves. This is incorrect, if a founder does not have founder’s syndrome they will have clear evidence that control and decisions have been made by majority votes and that tasks are efficiently delegated, any assumption that a founder is being pressured or bulldozed cannot be supported as any instance where this is the case will be stopped in its tracks by evidential reasoning and confirm the implied does not have founder’s syndrome. Although they may have the starting symptoms of it and the board may be quite rightly clamping down to make certain the symptoms are not extended beyond short term.

“ I would be remiss not to say…that there can be exceptions — but the exceptions are so rare that anyone assuming that their situation is different is most likely wrong.” – Henry Lewis, Charity Channel in 2002

Does every charity risk Founder’s Syndrome?

There are inevitable lifecycles which every organisation which subsists long enough to reach regardless of industry or profit status. These points are normally reference to corporate structures and little, well known, information is out there on charitable lifecycles as the majority are too small to conform to it, while the larger entities are able to utilise modified version of corporate lifecycles.

My preferred model provides the core stages as Founding, Growth, Stability, Expansion, an endless chain where expansion feeds into growth, or can just pause on stability for those smaller organisations who have no desire to take more on (most small charities), the problem for most Fonder Syndrome infected charities is that the expansion is not governed properly, it could be within the first year or in year 15, but until that point a difficult founder has been only that, founders syndrome is only applicable when it causes problems to the charity, volunteers, trustees if it’s not negatively affecting the charity then you just have a strong (nay difficult) founder. Now when I say causing problems, this can be anything from not letting the board review plans to not allowing them access to the bank account, some may not be directly negative but will mean the control facilities are not allowed to be in place to govern the organisation properly, this is a problem! So it is only those charities whose controlling parties exist with very little external control mechanisms that are at risk.

How to overcome founder’s syndrome

There are plenty of ways suggested to “get around founder’s syndrome” but how many of those are workable? Many of the suggestions are all about putting facilities and policies in place early on in foundation of the organisation, to protect the organisation from founder’s syndrome but this means a founder would have to admit control issues early on and is very unlikely that others could suggest such a thing while the charity is starting as the founder is normally the instigator of all plans and motivation. Other suggestions relate to the board getting outside advice etc, but this relies on the assumption that the board are nominated correctly and not subject to pressure from the founder, which in many cases is how it happens as the founder selects the board they want in place, not the other way around. This idea that most dominant founders with Founder Syndrome purposely select submissive and maybe somewhat ignorant committee members is mostly true, proper board members would stop the issues in their tracks and the only reason Founder Syndrome majorly affects charities is that the founder themselves put the board they want in place, all of who will presume the founder is protecting the charity and not protecting their control of it. If this continues for extended periods of time then the issues will begin to raise their heads, when a founder has had control for too long, the symptoms are worse.

” There shouldn’t be a culture in a charity that allows founders to hide information, and the accounts reviewed by the trustees should really always pick this up”  – Benjamin James, McCarthy Denning

I have read that, ‘one or more of theses symptoms could actually be strengths’ this really grated against me as the writer clearly has not got to grasp of what founder’s syndrome actually is, in its basic terms, caused when beneficial personality traits of the founder are allowed to transform, the personality traits then focus around control, power, ego, and extend into paranoia – this may seem to be an exaggeration but if you’ve dealt with Founder’s Syndrome and not seen these aspects then you have caught it earlier, the situation we’re dealing with is 30 years in the creation!

Often founders become increasingly defensive of their actions and resent any interference while any offers of help or suggestions are taken as threats, while resorting to blaming others for any issues, and initiatives to change the board to create stronger governance are stymied at every turn as the party involved have their standing called into disrepute. Without swift changes the organisation will eventually collapse, either due to problems created by the founder or by the lack of succession planning and the demise of the founder themselves.

Founders are frequently driven from organisations by controversy, which attracts negative publicity. Founder’s Syndrome causes circumstances to build until the board, staff, volunteers and even public bodies or regulators have to step in. This is not positive for any party involved but is done out of necessity.

“ The sooner the board or the authorities recognise such a situation and remove the founder, or anyone else who is taking advantage of the organization, the better.” – Elizabeth Schmidt, Nonprofit Quarterly 2013

Why isn’t more being done to protect charities from Founder’s Syndrome?

There are several views on this subject, but in my view this is it is one of the key topics which destroys the Charity Industry itself, a quick review of the last few major charities going into administration or being part of some other major scandal and you’ll see that it’s usually down to Founder’s Syndrome, although sometimes it’s not the actual founder but the person who grew the organisation from the onset.

Some well published examples of Founder’s Syndrome taking down a charity, although these are major, national and international examples it’s difficult to find publicised versions of the issues in smaller charities as the Trustees rightly reduce the amount of publicity regarding the failures or have disappeared from existence;

  • BeatBullying, led by its founder Emma-Jane Cross
  • ShelterBox dismissed its founder, Tom Henderson
  • Guy Willoughby, the founder of the landmine clearance charity the Halo Trust
  • Colin Nesbitt released on police bail after staff at Yorkshire-based Little Heroes Cancer Trust
  • Somaly Mam, of the self-titled Somaly Mam Foundation – A key example of belief in their own lies and how disastrous stories are a major call to alms for their supporters, while the more shocking the story the less likely we are to question its honesty.
  • Camila Batmanghelidjh who ran the very recently deceased Kids Company.

Currently the pressure is on the industry regulator, in this case the Charity Commission. In the UK there are over 164,000 charities registered with the Commission, who has around 300 employees, dealing with around £64 billion in public funds. As many of the public bodies are they also are facing budget cuts which is affecting their effectiveness.

Through April 2012 to March 2013 there were 15 inquiries opened by the Charity Commission, while during April 2013 – March 2014 there were 64 charities were placed under inquiry, yet in the 6 months from April 2014 – September 2014 there were 68! This jump is due to a National Audit Office investigation which concluding the Charity Commission works reactively rather than proactively, nor did it provide sufficient risk assessment of individual charities. The report also confirmed the Charity Commission made little use of its statutory powers, was slow to act and didn’t use its full force in the most serious of cases. Again I can completely see this, during my experience the commission have taken the full 14 days, sometimes more, to respond to us. They’ve agreed with us of the severity of the issues we’re dealing with, but their advice is for us to make a solicitor act on our behalf, there are many reasons why this isn’t appropriate which had been described within our emails to them. Acting outside their remit on operational matters, yet ignoring the many severe issues we’d advised them of, at one point we received a written reply from them after sending copies of evidence via Dropbox links, we were not aware they couldn’t access Dropbox, but due to the amount of evidence we couldn’t attached to an email, we received a response 14 days later, advising us of the next steps but confirming they had not read anything we had provided to them. This is not only poor service but it’s also poor regulation, if anything in those documents had provided the evidence they needed to open a statutory inquiry they have ignored it.

In 2013-14 there were 78 issues from complaints against the Charity Commission which were escalated to stage two of those 53% were complaining about insufficient regulatory interventions. This strikes clear with myself as we have personally been struggling to have the charity commission see the depth of problems to which all are serious issues of control and management over a 30 year period. I must make clear only 18% of these complaints did the charity commission accept as faults on their behalf, but if 53% of complaints are about insufficient intervention then maybe that says there should be more available to charities to have a body come in and provide true regulation, as expectation is what is key here, people were asking for help and didn’t receive it.

Lord Hodgson of the Public Administration Committee said the Commission will “only take action on complaints if they amount to serious mismanagement or misconduct”, however from my experience, they have not stepped in but provided a reply to each of our emails giving a generic and in my opinion somewhat flippant response, it is not the commission staff who are facing the intimidation and turmoil and this is a key part that the commission’s doesn’t seem to take into consideration. There are board members and volunteers working hard to fight for a cause and are being stifled, bullied and pressured by a founder to agree with them and protect their interests. It is this which is what people need support fighting against, the majority of board members and volunteers are happy to do any additional work needed to get their charities working legally and protect it from further damage. It is the initial step in making the founder see the issues and remove the control from them.

Although the Charity Commission utilised their information gathering powers more than 3 times the amount in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13 this still isn’t enough. If the commission had of stepped in with further information gathering powers as soon as complaints had been logged, they would be well aware ours was a case to open an inquiry into, while we would also be 16 months into having an effective, legally running charity doing the job it set out to do.

Law protecting charities from Founders Syndrome?

Let me make myself clear, I agree with most of the Charity Commissions stance and I certainly believe they are restricted by dated laws restricting what they can and can’t do, but this is where it falls short, their advice is provided in a very legal manner which doesn’t help small charities, while big charities can normally afford the legal costs for a professional to translate, its the small ones that are left high and dry while their regulator expects volunteers, staff and trustees to fight the founder with little support or law.

“ The world of executives is filled with founding chief executives whose domination, petulance, stubbornness, shortsightedness, and other flaws are routinely overlooked because, well, most of the time they’re right. That doesn’t make their exasperating style or puzzling choices defensible.” – Thomas A McLaughlin, Moving Beyond Founder’s Syndrome to Nonprofit Success

When a founder inflicted with the syndrome is faced with volunteers trying to protect the organisation the difficulties are emphasised, as there are NO volunteer protection laws. All employee regulations are only applicable to employees, so although most organisations will say they do not want bullying and biasing there is no model in law to prosecute should a founder go bullying volunteers and any other criminal charges are very difficult to prove without having many people witness and that is only going to cause the founder to publically flip the situation and tell people “they’re all against me” to which their prior publicity and fake authenticity of cause will sway, with ease, the public perception. This is a major flaw within law, people are volunteering their time and should, if anything, have more protection than employees who are receiving compensation for their time and work, this can also extensively clarify the position between volunteer and contractual employee which is somewhat grey.

My own situation is extensively worse as there are animals suffering, with which the RSPCA are unfortunately rather powerless, although they have been very supportive and confirmed issues date back long before my arrival in the charity, they confirm there were areas of the sanctuary which they didn’t even know existed, yet didn’t have right to enter. Some of the worst cases of animal cruelty have been done by animal charities and all due to Founder’s Syndrome, just some examples;

  • Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS), Yorkshire – closed 2014 after founder convicted of abuse and banned for 10 years from keeping dogs
  • Society for the Protection and Rehoming of Animals (SPRA) – Stuart Ford – convicted of animal cruelty
  • Sarah Mellanby, whos ‘sanctuary’ turned into hoarding then tried to dispute the RSPCA removing 62 ill cats –

As trustees we’re told governance is key, but this isn’t the core case with issues of founder’s syndrome, its the case of control which takes priority, without control the trustees cannot properly govern and this is why founder’s syndrome infected charities struggle. It’s difficult to ‘take’ a charity off a founder, but as we’ve discussed, it’s not owned by them so there should be no emotional attachment to that reason. It’s providing confidence and reassurance to the submissive board that’s been selected by the founder or giving them options for support, which can only come through law or its regulator.

The draft protection of charities bill (which is under review) proposes to give the commission additional statutory powers. Although I believe this law could have gone further it is a move in the right direction, the law suggests powers of suspension of trustees and the power to appoint interim managers during investigations. The main benefit to the new law is 3.3(b);

“ any other conduct of that person that appears to the Commission to be damaging or likely to be damaging to public trust and confidence in charities generally or particular charities or classes of charity.”  Draft Protection of Charities Bill

This bill would enable the Commission to stop founders who are seen to be destroying public confidence in charities themselves, I can confirm since this debacle has started and I’ve seen just how deep the problems of a charity can extend, one which I though was amazing before starting to volunteer there, these issues have very disastrously affected my views on charities as a whole and I’m now a cynic of the industry and my support of several smaller local charities has been called into question, until I can confirm the issues are not the same. I’ve no doubt at all that many of the volunteers, staff, ex-trustees and other affiliated parties feel the same.

Another section of the law which would benefit ourselves is section 8 the addition of the power of automatic disqualification from being a trustee: Section 4 Case H which involves making a false statement or causing one to be made. We have clear evidence of this as I have personally been interviewed by the police after false allegations were made by our founder to intimidate me from continuing to want the charity to run legally and protect the animals within its care.

I think one thing which should be extended by the law is the commission’s power to delegate. I cannot thank or promote the hands-on advice and support provided from our Local Voluntary Council, several members of the team have been so helpful and gone beyond their roles to support us. They have seen the stress, worry and pain we have suffered through bullying and seeing our animals die without any ability to help. I think what should be entered in law is the ability for select public bodies 0r charities, for example; the RSPCA, County Councils or the Police to escalate matters with the commission and for them to be able to formally nominate issues which need an inquiry. Those requests should be automatically filtered to the nearest Voluntary Council for further investigation before using regulatory finances, after all they know what they’re doing and provide advice and support to most charities, dare I say it, more than the Charity Commission themselves. They will then be able to step in earlier than the Charity Commission could, provide correct advice on how to proceed for the charity itself and know when to escalate the matter to the Commission which should automatically open an inquiry.

An acute case of Founder’s Syndrome

Over the past months we’ve dealt with no less than 5 public bodies asking for help, ex-trustees and committee members have all confirmed the issues existed even when they were on the books, and we have evidence that this was even the case in 2003! We have copies of complaints sent to the charity commission over the years (no doubt there are many more) and have confirmation from 5 other charities that they are aware of the issues and support immediate change. There are over 60 people, who are the core volunteers or ex-volunteers who have been bullied out of the rescue all supporting changes, but they’re terrified of our founder finding out, as they will be intimidated, bullied and removed by the founder, banning them from looking after the animals that we all see suffering at the hands of the founder. We’ve sent many formal emails to the commission with little resolution and advice we had already read ourselves. I can’t mask my disappointment in the Charity Commission, who not only have failed to support us and regulate the disastrous effects seen within our charity, but they have failed to help us protect the vulnerable animals that have supposed to be cared for with the public funds.

The commission has a specific statutory function to identify and investigate apparent misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities. It aims to assure the public that money intended for charitable purposes is used by charities in accordance with charity law.

We’re still working around the clock to make matter right, and we won’t stop. No matter what decision is made there is only one outcome that will protect the charity and its wards, in our case, that is for the founder to be removed from power with instant effect.

I would love to hear your experiences and add it to my research – Have you dealt with founder syndrome? Do you think you have it? At what stage did you catch it? What were the cost to the charity

Animal Cruelty and Deceit – Exposed in BBC Week In Week Out Investigation

Average Reading Time: 2 mins

To all those who watched last night’s BBC Week In Week Out investigation, I’m certain I don’t need to describe the conditions of Capricorn Animal Rescue, however this show only had an undercover reporter in there for 10 days, imagine all that has gone on outside of those 10 days and with other animals like the dogs and wildlife which the undercover reporter didn’t work with.

For those who didn’t see it, there were dead cats and kittens, cattery pens not cleaned for 3 days, animals without access to water and showing signs they’d not had any for quite some time! Please watch on BBC iPlayer at the following link;

One key part of the program is where the RSPCA are filmed handing Mrs Stewart an Improvement Notice order – this is used by them to officially record orders handed out to people who are not providing animal welfare standards – to which Mrs Stewart then tells the undercover reporter a completely different story;

She said the RSPCA officers wanted to help her disprove complaints made online by former volunteers, she says “So, he said if I can take photos of  everything then I can not only say I can go there but here’s the proof what you’re saying is not true. The chief inspector sent him down to get evidence to shut that lot up.” So instead of acting on the volunteers concerns she plans to sue them “Now we’ve got the RSPCA to say everything they say are lies, we’re going to go after them for defamation and libel, and they’ll all be in court”

The RSPCA however state “Mrs Stewarts claims are CATEGORICALLY UNTRUE

This small section of the program shows the deceit faced by everyone who has dealt with this rescue and tried to fight against the abuses, while this program focuses on animal welfare there is much more beyond that regarding the charity which the Charity Commission has been advised of, Capricorn was already one of the top 10 most complained about charities in 2015, many other legal issues exist;

  • Abuses of trust and power
  • Phenomenal abuses of governance
  • Ignoring requirements from the Charities Act
  • False minutes
  • Lies surrounding the employment of related parties
  • Lies regarding Trustee’s old and new
  • Lies about Volunteers, Membership, meetings
  • False statements regarding animal ownership
  • False allegations to police and public in reference to Trustees, Volunteers and Supporters
  • Serious slander about Trustees, Volunteers and Supporters
  • Deceitful masking of financial abuse
  • Wilful Mismanagement of financial records
  • Failures on a massive scale from Health and Safety to employment law
  • Multiple and continued conflicts of interest not managed at all

My last email to the commission has now been ignored for 50 working days, within that time I’ve chased them by phone and email without any response.  I’m sure you can now see how critical it is to have a public body step in here and properly investigate the goings on in this charity, as they are the only body with the powers needed to deal with a charity, please join us in advising the Charity Commission that an injury must be opened.

Please contact the charity commission at the following email address [email protected]

We hope that the program will make major differences not just to Capricorn but to Animal Welfare and make the Charity Commission think twice of ignoring volunteers pleas for help.

Heavy Hand
Why I love charity but resent the charity commission, like so many others

Average Reading Time: 3 mins

Ever since my teens I’ve believed charity was important to the world and have involved myself in small fundraisers and signed those ceaseless online petitions but several years ago I decided my time was more valuable and started volunteering for a local animal charity. If you gave me a brief explanation as to what would follow the next few years, I’d have called you a fantasist. This charity was one of the most complained about charities of 2015 and I, along with the many other volunteers involved in this, rest the blame for the ongoing issues directly on the Charity Commission’s failures.

This charity was part of an undercover BBC Week In Week Out investigation in Dec 2016 – you can watch the program on YouTube –    (iPlayer –

Very quickly after volunteering I discovered things weren’t quite what they seemed, originally I was a staunch supporter of all the hard work put into this charity and can’t explain my emotion when I realised the scale of animal neglect and the lies submitted by the founder to cover it up! At first I volunteered more, thought it was an issue of workload but no, the following is a short list of what’s been evidenced;

  • Abuses of trust and power
  • Phenomenal abuses of governance
  • Ignoring requirements from the Charities Act
  • False minutes
  • Lies regarding animal welfare
  • Lies surrounding the employment of related parties
  • Lies regarding Trustee’s old and new
  • Lies about Volunteers, Membership, meetings
  • False statements regarding animal ownership
  • False allegations to police and public in reference to Trustees, Volunteers and Supporters
  • Serious slander about Trustees, Volunteers and Supporters
  • Deceitful masking of financial abuse
  • Trustees being removed from Charity property by the founder
  • Wilful Mismanagement of financial records
  • Failures on a massive scale from Health and Safety to employment law
  • Multiple and continued conflicts of interest not managed at all

my last email has now been ignored [by the Charity Commission] for 2 months 2 weeks and 3 days

Evidence of each of these has been submitted to the charity commission, with each reply becoming more and more robotic, until they no longer replied, my last email has now been ignored for 2 months 2 weeks and 3 days, even after chasing it up. Thus far the Commission has Ignored beneficiaries suffering, ignored constitutional requirements, didn’t contact one other body to clarify anything, didn’t verify any of the lies being told by the founder, importantly allowed an illegal AGM and the person the allegations are all made against – to once again become a trustee and worst of all – breached the trust of the public who expect the commission to protect against charity wrongdoing which most people perceive as one of the most immoral of all acts.

During this whole process not one informed individual have asserted any faith in the Commission’s ability to act, each only confirming the depth of issues, but all of who do not want to stick their neck out affecting their own roles or defy such a clandestine and uncontrolled body. Our MPs met with the Commission and confirmed they are not what they expected even describing them as a ‘chocolate fireguard’.

While trying to get the commission to step in to stop the abuse and to police the industry it’s responsible for, the founder has accused us of Theft – from stealing donation boxes to transferring money out of the charity account and into my own (then advising supporters the police can’t do anything about it as it was more than 12 months ago!), bullying – even going to the point of advising in a ‘solicitors letter’ that complaints had been made by an apprentice of the charity (the college confirmed this was untrue), later advising the police there was a restraining order on me issued by the apprentice and countless other imaginary wrongdoings, created purposely to destroy characters and allow the founder to keep unilateral control.

There are no words to describe what those actions cause to a person

There are no words to describe what those actions cause to a person and many of the volunteers involved have suffered major depression, some even having breakdowns, others an irreparable grief for supporting such an organisation. I don’t think there are words to truly describe the person who committed the actions against these hardworking and dedicated volunteers, it’s clear anyone who can act in such a manner should never be allowed to control a charity, but in the same should a regulatory body who can ignore such horrific actions be allowed to continue?

If it wasn’t for the courage of those original volunteers to stand up and fight for probity, then this regime will carry on. The more concerning issue is that it’s only due to the beneficiaries being animals that the courage was found, if this charity had of been one to fundraise for support of other groups or societal problems, then they would have just walked away. What percentage of charities are similar situations happening to, how many other volunteers are suffering because of an incompetent regulator?

Major changes are needed as currently the Charity Commission is not fit for purpose