The UK Charity Commission Inquiry Into Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an Open Letter to Victims
According to their website:
“The Charity Commission is the independent regulator for charities in England and Wales. Its overall mission is to ensure that charities work effectively amongst society for the benefit of the public.
The Charity Commission promotes legal compliance through publications and casework. It has strong legal powers to investigate and deal with fraud and dishonesty in charities, including the powers to protect and freeze charity assets, if a formal investigation establishes serious mismanagement or abuse. Whilst the Commission is not a prosecuting authority, it is authorised to work with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and other authorities.”
Investigating the Watchtower
In May of 2014, the Charity Commission stated that it had “serious concerns” about Jehovah’s Witnesses, after receiving reports that a congregation in Manchester allowed a man named Jonathan Rose, who had been jailed for raping children in that congregation, to actually question the women he had been convicted of molesting. This was during a judicial committee meeting held after Rose’s release from jail, in order for the elders to determine if he should be disfellowshipped, as they didn’t feel the testimony in court or the court decision itself was sufficient evidence to make that determination. (See this news story for more details.)
In June of 2014, the Charity Commission announced that it was opening a full investigation into Jehovah’s Witnesses and their safeguarding procedures, although it would not include an investigation into abuse allegations themselves. According to this news story:
“The Commission announced that it had opened statutory inquiries yesterday afternoon. It had previously opened regulatory compliance cases, a less serious form of investigation. It began investigating the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain in July 2013 and the Manchester New Moston Congregation in December 2013. Announcing the inquiries, the Commission said: “The Commission’s concerns have been amplified by recent criminal cases concerning historic incidents of abuse involving individuals who appear to have been connected to Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations and/or the charity.””
Of course JWs responded by immediately appealing this decision to investigate them, and they dragged the appeals process on so long that a judge finally had to step in and say that the delay may be putting children in danger; note this site, which said:
“[Judge] McKenna said the charity’s delay of “over six months” in making the extension application to the tribunal “elongated unreasonably the period of time” in which the Commission would be “delayed from carrying out its inquiry pending determination of a challenge to its decision”. “I give weight to the fact that the [Commission’s] inquiry and production order relate to safeguarding matters which could… logically concern on-going risks to people who are still children”, she said.”
With legal wrangling continuing back and forth, on March 15, 2016, it was announced:
“The commission is pleased that the court unanimously dismissed Watch Tower’s challenge to the commission’s decision to open an inquiry. This is a significant decision allowing the commission’s inquiry to continue to progress.” (See this site for the full news story.)
On July 18, 2016, Jonathan Sanders, the lead investigator for the inquiry, sent out an email stating, in part, that the Watchtower’s application for an appeal to the UK Supreme Court had been denied, leaving them with no more avenues of appeal. See this post for his email in full.
What the Charity Commission Needs From You
As I bring out in this post, on April 19, 2016, Jonathan Sanders sent out the following email:
I hope you are all well. It is bright and sunny here in London so I hope the weather is good in your part of the world.
We are continuing to make good progress on our inquiries into safeguarding and charities linked to Jehovah’s Witnesses; I am also pleased to say that we are in addition making progress in addressing the complaints we have received regarding governance and the public benefit delivered by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain. I am looking forward to being able to share further information with you on both counts in the very near future.
I would now like to ask people who have experience of the following to let me know if they would be prepared to make a formal written statement:
- Direct, first-hand experience
- Of safeguarding
- In charities linked to congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses
- In England and Wales
- After 2011
- And NOT currently being investigated by the police or going through the criminal or civil courts
I know that there are many people whose experience has been different. I would like to assure you that I value the information you have shared with me to date. I hope it will be all right for us to stay in touch so that we can communicate with each other about the way the inquiries are going; I in any case anticipate that I will be coming back in the not too distant future with further appeals for witnesses who have had different experiences.
I also recognise that there are many people who are not in a position to provide a statement. Please do not feel under any pressure from me to do anything that is not right for you; and again please allow me to assure you that the information you have shared has been invaluable in helping us to develop our lines of inquiry.
Some of you have already contacted me either directly or indirectly with details of your experiences. I am very thankful to you for doing this. I am however mindful of the need to ensure that whatever steps we take are underpinned by best evidence, and so this is why I am now asking you to consider working with me to translate the emails and letters you have sent into formal statements.
If your experiences are reflected above, I would be very grateful if you would consider contacting me so that I can give you more information about the next steps. I would envisage meeting in person and taking a statement from you. I would not ask any questions about the detail of the abuse but would rather ask about how the trustees of the congregational charities dealt with what happened.
I know this is a lot to think about so please let me know if you have any questions. I would as ever be very pleased to field questions on any other aspect of our work or simply to catch-up!
As Mr. Sanders said, each person is free to use whatever approach is comfortable for them in telling their story, but I would strongly urge readers to consider contacting Mr. Sanders directly, Jonathan.Sanders@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk. This can help ensure that no detail of your story is omitted or varied in any way, something that could easily affect any future hearing or the credibility of the Charity Commission’s inquiry overall. This will also ensure that only accurate information is being communicated back to those who are sharing their stories and experiences.
Understanding the Process
It’s important for people to realize that these types of inquiries are often a long, drawn-out process. The Watchtower has legal arguments they have been lodging in court for the past few years and of course those arguments always need to be heard by a judge before any Commission can act; that’s simply how the law works. While many victims of the Watchtower Society know that Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be allowed to be called a “charity” of any sort, the Charity Commission does not have the same years of insight as those of us coming out of the religion, and cannot just *clap clap* and revoke their charitable status.
It’s also vital for persons to understand that this Jonathan Sanders cannot simply make a decision on his own or too hastily. He needs to follow rules of law and is simply an investigator, not the one and only person who makes a decision regarding the charitable status of any organization. I’ve spoken with him a few times since my initial email and he seems very reasonable and quite open to any and all information, but as he says in his email above, expectations must be balanced. As frustrating as it is to we survivors, the Watchtower does have legal rights that they can use to their advantage, and one investigator cannot simply override those rights or make any decision overnight. That being said, obviously the Commission has been quite serious in pursuing their inquiry against the Watchtower, as they have been fighting them in court for the past two years. If the Commission were negligent at all, the Watchtower would not be putting up such fights against their work.
The Commission and Mr. Sanders especially no doubt need our passionate yet respectful cooperation at this point, for the best possible outcome of this inquiry. In other words, let’s not blame him because the Watchtower still stands; I’m sure no one blames Angus Stewart (he’s so dreamy) because the Watchtower still operates in Australia, as we know these ones are doing the best they can, given the sometimes unfortunate circumstances of law.
If you need further information about the Charity Commission, visit their website and, again, I will update this page as often as possible.
After sharing one of the news stories above on the Facebook page for this website, the following exchange occurred in the comments section:
Many people know that Lloyd Evans writes under the name John Cedars on the website JWsurvey.org. This post and conversation on Facebook took place on February 11 and 12, 2016, yet you’ll note the Charity Commission was still in court, fighting the Watchtower, at that time. Obviously the Commission was still investigating Watchtower and had not yet made any decision regarding their charitable status, otherwise they would not have still been in court.
After the above exchange on my Facebook page, I contacted Jonathan Sanders directly at his email in order to confirm this, and sent him this message:
Mr. Sanders responded to me quite promptly with the following message:
Since the initial publication of this post, I have been contacted by many people who have said that Lloyd Evans stated in a video some time back that the Charity Commission “endorses” the Watchtower and “isn’t concerned” with them. I haven’t seen this video and have no explanation for those statements, but will say that the UK Supreme Court did not even hear the Watchtower’s final appeal; they turned down their application for an appeal. If the Charity Commission were not doing its job, the Watchtower would have at least had an audience with the higher court and would have won their two-year battle to squash this Inquiry.
Whatever misstatements have been made in the past, it is of no consequence at this point. The Watchtower may or may not lose their charitable status; we live in a world where religions are given a free reign no matter their scandals and abuses, that’s reality. However, if they retain their charitable status, that isn’t necessarily a total loss on our part. As with the Australian Royal Commission, this fight given them by the Charity Commission has already cost Watchtower a lot of time and resources and they’ve already gotten a black eye in the press over these stories; just the fact that the Charity Commission feels a need to investigate them alone is damaging to their reputation. Many people are asking what the Watchtower has to hide, since they’ve been fighting against this Inquiry so vigorously. The above story regarding Jonathon Rose has been repeated in the media every time there has been news about the Commission’s legal battle with them.
To ensure accurate information is being received and disseminated, I would suggest that victims approach the Commission directly and get their information from the Commission directly, to ensure we are not doing anything, purposeful or otherwise, to sabotage or hinder the work of this inquiry.
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