Posted: Mon 21st Mar 2022

Regulator disqualifies former trustee of Capricorn Animal Sanctuary after inquiry finds ‘serious misconduct’

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Mar 21st, 2022

The Charity Commission has disqualified one of the former trustees of an animal charity in Flintshire after an official inquiry found serious misconduct and mismanagement. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Capricorn Animal Rescue and Sanctuary was founded in 1983 and operated from premises in Mold caring for over 100 animals, it has since been wound up. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The charity aimed to relieve the suffering of animals and birds, including by providing resource centres and other facilities for the reception and care of these animals. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Capricorn comprised an animal sanctuary and residential accommodation occupied by the trustee Sheila Stewart and her son, who was also employed by the charity. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In addition, the charity owned a residential property in Buckley which had been bequeathed to it in the will of a former trustee. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It also owned shop premises in Wrexham and leased shop premises in Mold. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

There were concerns about the welfare of animals in the charity’s care and concerns regarding the charity’s governance. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The Charity Commission opened a regulatory compliance case into the charity in January 2016 following complaints from members of the public, unfavourable coverage by local press and regional television, and parliamentary interest. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In 2018 The Charity Commission called for the RSPCA’s support, and 137 animals were subsequently taken from the Mold-based Capricorn Animal Rescue and transferred to safe spaces. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In the course of that case the Commission identified serious regulatory concerns in respect of ineffective procedures for protection of charity funds and it provided regulatory advice and guidance to the then trustees on how to improve the charity’s governance. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Capricorn Animal Rescue and Sanctuary which included Aston, Hawarden Animal Aid –  was based in Mold. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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The inquiry report, published today, sets out multiple failures by the trustees of the charity at the relevant times, including failure to manage the animal sanctuary effectively and in accordance with animal welfare legislation. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The regulator found an absence of formal financial controls, despite the Commission’s regulatory advice ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The commission report found there were inappropriate banking and cash handling procedures, which “allowed a former trustee to make cheques out to a family member and to cash, and cash to be taken from the charity’s shops prior to banking, breaching cash handling policies.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The lease of the charity’s shop in Mold was renewed at an increased cost to the charity, which exceeded the income generated by the shop and which resulted in significant arrears of rent and service charges ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The commission said there were concerns that a former trustee may have benefitted personally, by living in a house on the sanctuary’s premises with inadequate records kept of rent payments ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The report states there was a failure to file the charity’s annual accounts, trustees’ annual reports and annual returns to the Commission, and discrepancies between the information provided to the Commission and analysis of bank statements. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The Commission took regulatory action, including to protect the charity’s funds by restricting the operation of its bank accounts, and disqualifying Sheila Stewart, one of the former trustees, for 15 years. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It also appointed an interim manager, who concluded that the closure of the charity was necessary and took the appropriate steps to do this. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Amy Spiller, Head of Investigations at the Charity Commission, said: ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The public was rightly concerned about the effectiveness of the charity and its ability to deliver on its charitable aims.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Where a charity is inefficiently administered, it is right that it winds up and is removed from the register.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The very real impacts of poor governance, ineffective financial controls and mismanagement are highlighted by this case. The failures of the trustees, including Sheila Stewart, to properly manage the charity, resulted in its closure and the rehoming of 140 animals in its care.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The RSPCA rehomed 41 cats, 17 birds – including budgies, parakeets and cockatiels – 14 rabbits, ten dogs, ten hamsters, eight guinea pigs, five bearded dragons, five degus, five pigs, five ferrets, three snakes, two gerbils, a chinchilla and a goose. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

At the time RSPCA Cymru said it would prove “exceptionally difficult” for a small sanctuary to provide adequate care for such a range of species without significant resources, preparation and contingency planning. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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