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Shawcross: Commission is determined to prevent terrorist abuse of charities

The Charity Commission is determined to prioritise the prevention of abuse of charities by terrorists, its chair William Shawcross told an audience of charity lawyers this morning.

In his keynote address to the Charity Law Association conference, Shawcross said that while proven cases of terrorist activity within charities are low, the Commission still sees terrorist abuse as "one of the greatest risks facing the sector today".

He singled out student unions as needing to be especially vigilant, saying that they must not allow themselves to become vehicles for radicalisation by providing a platform to extremist speakers.

He promised that while he is chair of the Commission, it will take swift and robust action when there are concerns that charities are being misused for such purposes.

It was the second time within a month that Shawcross expressed his concern about terrorist abuse of charities; in September the former journalist said that the Commission was stepping up its anti-terror work, and that doing so was one of the ways it could fulfil its role as the "policeman of the charity sector". 

The regulator is already contributing to the government's Extremism Taskforce, set up after the murder of drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May.

And Shawcross told the CLA conference he was pleased that Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police, had joined the Commission's board.

McCarthy: personal interest affecting regulatory response

However, Shawcross was challenged on the new priority by BWB lawyer Rosamund McCarthy, who suggested that his own personal interest in the subject of foreign affairs and terrorism could be affecting the proportionality of the regulator's response to the risk.

"You said yourself that proven cases are low," she pointed out.

McCarthy warned that prioritising the terrorist threat would have the effect of "choking off giving by undermining public trust and confidence in the sector" and put people off becoming trustees of international charities that do important work.

Shawcross responded: "Of course we will be proportionate and behave entirely appropriately in the action we take to deal with this threat. But everyone understands it is a new threat and everyone understands it is our duty to control that threat."

Shawcross: policeman but not Stasi

Shawcross also told the delegates that the regulator was determined to tighten up its policing of the sector going forward, but promised it would not become its "Stasi".

He said the Commission was becoming more active at identifying abuse and mismanagement, quicker and more decisive at taking action when abuse has been identified, and quicker at publishing inquiry reports.

The regulator had already asked Parliament for new powers to disqualify trustees, he added, and these included a widening of the types of criminal convictions that are covered by automatic disqualification.

"It is ludicrous that a convicted terrorist can still be a trustee," he said.

Earlier this week the Charity Commission chair distanced himself from remarks made to the Daily Telegraph, which ran a story under the headline Charity millions going to Syrian terror groups.

This article was taken from Civil Society: http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/16208