Inner City Helping Homeless ‘got no help in handling fallout of sex assault inquiry’
The former trustees of a homeless charity have criticised the Charities Regulator for its “lack of action” or support after sex assault allegations against the charitable organisation’s chief executive sparked scandal.
David Hall, the former chairman of Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), criticised the regulator for its “belated” response to the crisis, which was sparked by the criminal inquiry into the charity’s co-founder Anthony Flynn, who has since died.
After months of turmoil, ICHH was closed for good last Monday following a petition by the regulator.
It is understood an independent investigation commissioned by the previous board in one of its last acts has now been shelved.
In a scathing letter to the regulator last weekend, Mr Hall expressed “outrage” that the independent review has been discontinued.
“I believe the Charities Regulatory Authority has a duty of care to support and help directors, little of which was shown during this difficult time,” he wrote.
The crisis unfolded after two homeless men contacted gardaí in May separately, each alleging Mr Flynn sexually assaulted them at home. Both men had used ICHH’s services, according to a report by Mr Hall.
Gardaí launched a criminal investigation but Mr Flynn did not inform the board of the charity. Mr Hall found out in July when gardaí sought records from the charity.
Mr Flynn was suspended and later took his own life. He had denied the allegations and his death generated anger in the north Dublin inner city community. Mr Hall resigned from the charity after he was told his personal safety was at risk. Other resignations followed, leaving the charity with just one remaining director, Ann Birney.
Ms Birney asked the High Court to appoint a provisional liquidator to examine the options for the homeless charity. The Charities Regulator moved weeks later to wind up ICHH and have inspectors appointed to investigate the finances and employment procedures in the organisation.
In his letter, Mr Hall said that as the scandal unfolded in August he wrote to the Charities Regulator asking for assistance. Instead of offering advice, Mr Hall was referred in a “quite dismissive” email to the regulator’s website.
Mr Hall said the regulator only became involved after the trustees of the charity had gone to the High Court to ask for the charity to be placed in the hands of provisional liquidator. This was “akin to appointing a medical team to a corpse”.
The issues the charity faced included a “plan to take back the charity” in which members voted against the board, and the recovery of “significant” records and a laptop that belonged to the charity. These had been taken by Mr Flynn to work from home during the pandemic but the charity could not get them back because of the relationship with his family.
“Given the relationship between the directors and the former CEO’s family following his death and given that the family were blaming the board, it was not possible to retrieve these,” Mr Hall said.
“This was a very tense and difficult situation during which time the board received no assistance or advice from the Charities Regulator.”
He asked the regulator to expand the inspectors’ brief to include the regulator’s own response to the crisis as well as the response of the trustees.
“I am outraged that given the serious allegations and the tragic death of our former CEO, that your actions would close the independent investigation commissioned by the former board through Remy Farrell SC and, instead, you have switched your focus at considerable cost to the company’s administration, deflecting from the real issues that arose,” he wrote.
Mr Hall said alleged victims are still seeking counselling, with one man contacting a former director “in recent days”. He claimed these were the actions the Charities Regulator should have considered. Instead, he said, the inspectors are “duplicating” the work of the liquidator, creating unnecessary additional expense.
He said the inspection — with its focus on governance and employment procedures — “deflects from the sexual assault allegations and actions taken that ensued. In my view, this is extremely disingenuous.”
In a statement the Charities Regulator said it “appointed inspectors to carry out a statutory investigation (under Section 64 of the Charities Act 2009) into the affairs of Inner City Helping Homeless in October 2021. It would not be appropriate for the regulator to comment while this investigation is ongoing”.
A Garda investigation into the allegations against Mr Flynn is expected to conclude shortly with a file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, although charges are not expected.