Putney MP Labels Charity Commission’s Inquiry Report "A Whitewash"

Fleur Anderson calls for CC to follow up on the allegations brought by local residents

map showing the issues over access pre sale

The Charity Commission’s Inquiry Report * into the dispute over the alleged under-valuation of access rights on Putney Common to allow a school and flats to be built on the site of the former Putney Hospital, was published after much delay last month (2nd July). At the time Mrs Diane Neil Mills, Chairman of the Board of Conservators welcomed the report and its findings and: "The closure of the inquiry behind us.”

Mrs Diane Neil Mills

However the issues have not gone away and Putney MP, Fleur Anderson has called the report a whitewash that "raises far more questions and concerns than it answers. It is a whitewash of a report, despite taking five years to investigate."

Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond said the Charity Commission had not recognised nor understood the problem and added that he felt it was not qualified not competent to tackle similar investigations.

Putney MP, Fleur Anderson

Ms Anderson acknowledged that the charity had improved: "On the basis of this report and the imposition of the interim manager by the Charity Commissioners, I am satisfied that there have been improvements in the running of the Charity now. I know that we have all appreciated Wimbledon and Putney Commons even more during lockdown."

But Ms Andersen does not feel the Charity Commission has investigated the financial losses incurred by the property deal over the sale of Putney Hospital and the easement for access to the school that was built on the site.

The Hospital in 2012

Ms Anderson told this website: "The 45,000 local residents who pay their levy to the charity every year and read this report will have lots of questions for the Conservators. I am shocked by the eye-watering £734,310 paid in legal and professional fees between 2012 and 2019 which were largely to fight questions by local residents over the alleged mismanaged property deals. These deals resulted in millions of pounds being lost to the Treasury when Putney Hospital was sold to Wandsworth Council for far less than the market rate and then sold on for school and residential development again for considerably less than the market rate.

She continued: "The Charity Commissioners should have investigated these questionable deals, but instead have focused on internal systems. I am concerned about any future property deals and whether they would be conducted in the interests of local people and levy-payers. I have written to the Charity Commissioners to follow up on the allegations brought to light by local residents but not investigated and their response has been disappointing."

Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond, pictured above, said: “I spoke to the Charity Commission when the Report was published and expressed a number of concerns to them.

“The report had initially contained inaccuracies which the Commission were forced to correct.

“The so called ‘whitewash’ has been the complete failure of the Charity Commission to recognise or understand the problem....which has harmed the WPCC and cost the charity, and therefore local residents, hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“I note:

(i) The Commission did not make any findings about the decision to grant the easement or the terms of that grant.

(ii) The inquiry found that the decision of trustees in February 2017 not to recover any funds which may have been lost was reasonable and properly taken.

(iii) The inquiry did not find any one individual responsible for any incorrect decision, act or omission.

“Therefore, it is difficult to understand how the Charity Commission reached its conclusions.

“I am now of the view that the Charity Commission is neither qualified nor competent to undertake these investigations in future. I think that we now need an immediate investigation into whether the Charity Commission itself is any longer fit for purpose.

“I sincerely hope that the WPCC will now be allowed to do what it was set up for; to manage the Commons for the enjoyment of Wimbledon and Putney residents.”

Two Putney residents have been leading a campaign calling for an investigation in to the Wimbledon Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC) mismanagement of the sales, Nicholas Evans a former trustee with the charity and John Cameron.

In 2015 Nick Evans resigned his role as a trustee stating: "No choice but to resign
In trying to steer the charity in a direction that would correct the wrongs that I believe have been done, I have also tried to bring its management into line with best practice. Prevented from doing so, I have no other choice but to resign. The public needs to know what has been going on to prevent this ever happening again."

Nick has welcomed a recent article in The Times (4th August) in which he believes that Dominic Kennedy the Investigations Editor of the Times exposes the WPCC Charity Commission whitewash.

John Cameron welcomed Fleur Anderson's intervention saying:" Fleur Anderson is entirely right in stating the report is a 'whitewash" and as Putney's MP, I am sure Fleur will pursue this diligently to expose both the Commission's failure to regulate as well as the trustees' dishonesty. The current board is no better; they refuse to make public the valuations for the sale of Mill House or the common land unlawfully swapped with the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club."

John accuses the Conservators of a lack of integrity: "As a public body the WPCC’s trustees lack of integrity is simply astounding. During the inquiry the trustees failed to disclose conflicts of interest with Bates Wells Braithwaite and Charles Russell Speechlys, as did Simon Lee. The trustees' strategy was to kick the deliberate undersale into touch, and in doing so they deliberately ran up significant costs and gerrymandered the appointment of Daniel Watney LLP. Simon Lee lied to the Commission multiple times. None of this is addressed by the Charity Commission in their report. A straightforward investigation took nearly four years and the inescapable conclusion is that the Commission simply changed their conclusion when threatened by Sir Ian Andrews and his lawyers at Russell Cooke. The Commission claims to have a raft of compulsory powers to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation, but this was neither."

The MPs have been joined by Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking and Dagenham, she told Third Sector: This story demonstrates either they got it wrong or they are running away from standing up for the conclusions by fighting the case in court,” Hodge said, adding that both options “create concern as to whether the Charity Commission is fit for purpose”.

We have invited Mrs Diane Neil Mills, Chairman of the Board of Conservators to comment.

* The scope of the inquiry included: - the administration, governance and management of the charity by the trustees with specific regard to the granting of the easement in August 2014 to the London Borough of Wandsworth for access rights over Putney Lower Common and governance costs generally - whether or not the trustees had complied with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities as trustees under charity law - the extent to which the trustees were unwilling or unable to comply with the action plan issued by the Commission on 22 October 2015 - whether the easement was granted at a significant undervalue and, if so, whether sufficient consideration was given as to whether it was appropriate or feasible to recover any monetary loss to the charity and from whom - whether conflicts of interest were managed appropriately.