When Does a Charity Become Uncharitable?

BY STEVE GRANT

Let me begin by warning you I’m going to be uncharitable about a charity. It’s not really the done thing but this charity isn’t bothered at being uncharitable about others or at inviting others to behave the same way. And all under the supposedly watchful eyes of the Charity Commission.

Anyone running a charity must make sure it complies with its governing document. This contains the charity’s aims or purposes, often referred to as its ‘objects’. The charity must only deliver its purposes and its funds can only be spent on supporting the delivery of these purposes. Every one of a charity’s trustees is responsible for this. Even if certain tasks are done by individual trustees, employees or volunteers, all trustees are responsible. Charities must also be run for the ‘public bene­fit’ and have to prove they provide a clear bene­fit for a wide enough section of the public when delivering their purposes.

Which brings me to the League Against Cruel Sports. Its charitable objects are: 1: The prevention of all forms of cruelty to animals; 2: The advancement of education generally with particular reference to the care and protection of animals, ecology, natural history, conservation and environmental studies; 3: The conservation, preservation, protection and restoration for the public bene­fit of the natural resources, natural beauty and animal and plant life of the world and lands and buildings of beauty, historic interest or of ecological or scienti­fic importance and, as regards lands, for the preservation, as far as practicable, of their natural aspect, features and animal and plant life.

I’ll let you decide how well it lives up to those mighty aims, especially the second two. None of its charitable objects include the sinister targeting of legitimate businesses during a global pandemic which has seen many jobs lost and businesses fail. Do the League’s trustees – Tim Holmes, John Hughes, Astrid Clifford, Caroline Hawkins, Professor Alan Tapp, or Ashleigh Brown – consider that meets its charitable objects? Do they think it’s ethical? To me it smacks more of the behaviour of the keyboard warrior throwing insults and abuse at any business he or she believes supports hunting or shooting. And there’s no doubt in my mind that is what the League is encouraging its supporters to do.

The shift started in February when it called upon businesses to withdraw support for the Worcestershire Hunt Point-to- Point auction, threatening their reputation could suffer and they could be ‘complicit in supporting the illegal hunting and brutal killing of wildlife’. Now, foxhunting is illegal but a Point-to-Point and trail hunting are not. These are legitimate rural businesses helping to raise funds for what is a local community group. So, just who is acting for the public bene­fit?

In March, the League turned its attention to another legitimate business, fundraising company Jumblebee. Its stated aim is ‘to help charities, clubs and communities to raise funds for good causes’ and it has worked with Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, The Soldiers Charity and The Air Ambulance Service among others. Plenty of public bene­fit there. Unless you’re the League, which discovered that 18 Hunts have held online auctions using the website, raising more than £120,000. A separate auction for the International Hounds Show last year raised £83,000. Yet the so-called charity’s chief executive, Andy Knott MBE, asked them to end all association with hunting and to end all hunt auctions. And, in less than two weeks, the League published ­five press releases and a blog targeting Jumblebee and urging its supporters to contact the company too. Apparently more than 2,600 did and around 500 tweets were sent forcing the website to deactivate its Twitter account. It’s not known how many other contacts targeted Jumblebee but the campaign has been widely shared among antis, include Charlie Moores, who claimed the company’s behaviour was ‘morally dubious’ and that it bene­fitting from hunting ‘does leave something of an unpleasant taste in the mouth’. Commenting on the fact that Jumblebee had so far failed to cave in to demands, he added ominously: “Perhaps they’ve never met infuriated pro-wildlife campaigners before…?”

But, back to the League. Each of the press releases talked about ‘fox hunts’ with Chris Luffingham, the League’s director of campaigns, claiming: “It’s time for Jumblebee to stop allowing fox hunts to raise money on its online auction site.” Which is being uneconomical with the truth to say the least. In case you’ve forgotten Chris, foxhunting is illegal.

Nick Weston, the League’s head of campaigns (they need a head and a director of campaigns?), also popped up to add that it ‘would be happy to commend it if it announces it’s going to take this action’.

Perhaps worst of all was the blog written by ‘regional campaign manager’ Emily Lawrence which directly accuses Jumblebee of funding foxhunting. Entitled Fox Hunting: Who funds this cruel sport?, the blog states: “Why would anyone want to fund foxhunting and the cruel and barbaric killing of wildlife? Jumblebee, a fundraising website does.” Now, if I was Jumblebee’s lawyer, I’d be having a very close look at that and demanding an apology. It is deceitful, dishonest and dislikeable.

Lawrence also claimed ‘past and present users’ of the website had told the League ‘they will move their business elsewhere unless Jumblebee commits to stop funding hunts’. Over three weeks later there’s been no proof of this at all.

The blog also invites readers to check out the sponsors for local Point-to-Points and asks them to withdraw support. Lawrence boasts proudly: “The League contacted several companies and businesses that donated prizes to auctions associated with hunting asking them to remove their lots.” She didn’t reveal whether they did or not.

A charity should never pursue and harass a business, but there is something especially sinister about targeting a business during a global pandemic. Take another look at those charitable objects.

Now, tell me, am I the one being uncharitable or is it the League?

Republished by kind permission of The Countryman’s Weekly