The Whitley Community Development Association (WCDA) public defibrillator project will not be delayed by the alleged misuse of more than £3000 of public donations by a former WCDA employee. The WCDA have called in the police and obtained support and advice from the Berkshire Community Foundation (BCF) and the Big Local.
The Reading Chronicle reported on 7 August that former WCDA small grants officer Maureen ‘Mo’ McSevney had been sacked for failing to forward £3,132.99 to the WCDA. The money had been donated by the people of Whitley and friends of Matthew Farrall to buy life-saving automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
The BCF is the WCDA’s locally trusted organisation; they manage the Whitley million granted in 2015. BCF’s head of finance Jane Williams said:
BCF is satisfied that the alleged theft did not involve Local Trust money, that the incident was dealt with appropriately by WCDA, and that all procedures for Local Trust money are in place to ensure it is spent in the correct way.
The Just Giving account
Gavin Aldrich, WCDA media consultant, said that they had set up a Just Giving page in 2018 as a ‘personal campaign’ in the name of WCDA community development co-ordinator Trisha Bennett.
“We didn’t know that when you create a ‘personal campaign’, you’re not allowed to send the funds to a corporate account; you have to send it to a personal account,” said Mr Aldrich.
“Just Giving didn’t advise us about charity pages [which allow transfers into corporate accounts], and when we realised, Just Giving wouldn’t let us switch.”
“When the funds had to be transferred out, the WCDA agreed that the funds would be transferred to Mo’s account as a temporary measure because Trisha was away at the time.”
Mr Aldrich denied any WCDA negligence in this process because it had been fully documented, agreed and was being implemented with the knowledge of WCDA trustees and staff.
“It’s what happened next that was negligent,” said Mr Aldrich. “The money didn’t make it to WCDA’s account.”
The WCDA agreed with Ms McSevney at her disciplinary hearing that she had to pay back the donation money.
Are other WCDA accounts affected?
Ms Bennett said that no other WCDA funds, including the ‘Whitley million‘ that came from the Big Local, had been affected by this or any similar incident.
Like all charitable incorporated organisations (CIOs), the WCDA have to submit their annual accounts to the charity commission. Their 2016/17 accounts were submitted 11 months late, and their 2017/18 accounts are late again this year.
Mr Aldrich said that the WCDA trustee treasurer and staff at the time had found managing the 2016/17 accounts difficult. These were finally submitted on 26 May 2019 and were independently examined by chartered accountants James Cowper Kreston.
“On top of the challenge of this [loss of AED donations] disciplinary issue, we have had a challenge with the book-keeping which has not been as up-to-date as it should be,” said Mr Aldrich.
Ms Bennett added that their 2017/18 accounts, which were due in May 2019, will be filed with the Charity Commission within the next month and available for public scrutiny. Accounts for the current financial year, 2018/19, will be presented at WCDA’s next AGM in February 2020. These accounts will also be independently examined by external accountants.
“The accounts will show that this was an isolated incident,” said Mr Aldrich.
Ms McSevney had been employed as the WCDA small grants officer before being sacked for gross misconduct on 30 May 2019. WCDA say they took human resource (HR) advice from Peninsula about how to handle the incident,
Reading Borough Council nominated Ms McSevney as a trustee to the Queen Victoria Institute (QVI) in June 2019. QVI chair of trustees Deborah Jenkins said that Ms McSevney’s position had not been confirmed, and she neither served as a trustee nor had access to QVI accounts.
Ms McSevney stood as a Labour Party candidate representing Redlands ward in the local elections in May 2019, losing to Jamie Whitham from the Green Party. She had also been chair of the Reading and District Labour Party (RDLP). In response to a request for comment, the current RDLP chair Councillor Sarah Hacker said:
The Labour Party takes all complaints seriously, which are investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken. We cannot comment on individual complaints.
The Matthew Farrall AED project
The first of the new AEDs was unveiled outside the South Reading Community Hub in July 2018, and the WCDA arranged for CPR training with Heartstart Swallowfield for anyone who wanted it. The second AED has already been bought using WCDA funds.
“Both of the defibrillators we bought, as well as the opening day memorial, were paid for by WCDA in good faith. The WCDA are out of pocket from all of this because we never received the donations,” said Mr Aldrich.
“In light of what happened, we recognise that a member of staff did not act in the organisation’s best interests, and we have triggered a number of processes to improve our accounting and financing,” he added.
“We have learned a very painful lesson about allowing any one person too much control,” he said. “All the trustees, and everyone connected with the organisation, are devastated – just mortified – at what has happened. We recognise we have to do more and work harder now to regain the trust of our community.”
You can become a trustee if you would like to help the WCDA oversee their projects, administration and money.
- Whitley Community Development Association trying to recover £3,000 in missing donations (Reading Chronicle, 7 August 2019)
- WCDA defibrillator unveiled in memory of Matthew Farrall
- The WCDA on the Whitley Pump
- WCDA accounts at the Charity Commission
- Matthew Farrall on the Whitley Pump
- Reading and District Labour Party
- The Charity Commission