They have been described as a ‘cult’ – now it seems religious sect Exclusive Brethren have rebranded – We ask why?
The regulator broadens its inquiry to include charities with annual incomes of between £250,000 and £500,000, including Cymmer Workmen’s Hall and Institute in Porth
The Charity Commission has announced investigations into 12 charities that have failed to file annual reports and accounts for at least two years.
The regulator announced in September that it had opened a ‘class inquiry’ into 12 charities with last-known annual incomes of £500,000 or more a year that had accounts outstanding for at least two of the past five years. Of these organisations, nine have since filed accounts.
It has today broadened the inquiry to include 12 charities with annual incomes between £250,000 and £500,000 that have failed to file accounts for two or more of the past five years.
They include the Muslim Cultural Society of Birmingham and the National Patients Support Trust, which both have accounts that are more than 1,000 days late, and the Michael Davies Charitable Settlement, which lists its activities as “general charitable purposes” on the Charity Commission’s website and also has accounts that are more than 1,000 days late.
The Charity Commission originally identified 71 ‘double default’ charities, but only pursued inquiries into 12 because the others had either ceased to exist or were going into liquidation or administration, were already subject to existing compliance cases, or agreed to file their documents before the inquiry started.
Failure to file accounts with the commission is a criminal offence, and trustees risk prosecution if they do not comply, the commission said.
Sam Younger, chief executive of the commission, said that trustees who do not file accounts show “contempt for the public they are accountable to”.
The commission has also today published inquiry reports into five of the original 12 charities.
These reports show the commission ordered the trustees of two charities – The Bridge (Oxford) and the Grace Church Christian Centre – to prepare and submit missing information, and issued an order to obtain bank records and financial information for these two charities. The other three charities, all of which had Bournemouth Borough Council as a corporate trustee, complied without needing direction.
The three charities in the first tranche that have still not filed accounts are the Yad Vochessed Association, the Achiezer Association, and Beighton Welfare Recreation Ground.
Younger said: “The message to trustees from the reports we have published today is simple; submitting this information is your responsibility, even if you delegate it to charity staff or your accountants to do.
“If trustees before you have failed, it is your duty to make good on the default.
“As I have said, we will not tolerate charities that demonstrate contempt for the public they are accountable to by failing to meet reporting requirements. We are continuing to target double defaulting charities and we will pursue these breaches of duty.”
The commission said it planned to extend its investigation into double defaulters below £250,000, but has not said when the next tranche will occur or how many charities are likely to be investigated.
The 12 charities added to the investigation announced today are:
Cymmer Workmens Hall and Institute
African Families Support Services
Jamiat-Ul-Muslemeen Quwat-Ul-Islam Masjed
The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Peter, Notting Hill
Michael Davies Charitable Settlement
Crawley Islamic Centre and Mosque
Muslim Cultural Society of Birmingham
Life Line Missions
The National Patients Support Trust
Hadley Playing Fields and Recreation Ground
The commission said that the parochial church council of St Peter has since filed accounts and had been removed from the inquiry.
POSTERS COMMENT: I post the below after searching to see if Wikipeebia had already hosted this article. I could not find that they had. Please forgive me if this is doubling up.
Behind the Brotherhood: The Elect Vessel, Bruce Hales
By Patrick Gower
5:00 AM Saturday Oct 14, 2006
For Vincent Field, it was the highest honour a boy in the Exclusive Brethren could have – the chance to meet the Elect Vessel, the minister of the Lord in the Recovery, essentially God’s man on earth.
So when John Hales graced Vincent’s Christchurch congregation, the 10-year-old did exactly what he thought a boy in the Brethren should do.
He waited while other children and followers swirled around the Australian accountant whose face he knew from the pictures up in every Exclusive Brethren church and home. And when he came free, Vincent rushed up and gave him a $20 note.
“He barely even acknowledged me, he just took it and that was that,” says Vincent, now 25.
“I still felt real cool though – it was like ‘Oh wow, I just gave $20 to Mr Hales’.”
Vincent has since left the Exclusive Brethren. Hales has died, the mantle of Elect Vessel passing to his son Bruce, a Sydney office supplies businessman.
These days, Vincent is nonplussed about the donation he once thought of as “bonus points for God”.
“It was all a crock of shit of course,” he says. “It is not like the guy needed money. The Hales family are rolling in the stuff and they got my twenty bucks tax free and all.”
Other former members spoke to the Weekend Herald about how their congregations were asked to vary the size of their donations to leaders “so they didn’t look like wages”.
Then there are the “mules”, those who spoke of ferrying to Australia envelopes of cash earmarked for the Elect Vessel or other leaders.
Yet the influence of Bruce Hales over his estimated 10,000 followers in New Zealand and 40,000 worldwide extends to much more than these systematic donations, or tithes.
Take their neighbourhood meeting room in Mt Eden’s Ruapehu St, one of at least half-a-dozen dotted across Auckland city. Good for a meeting of no more than 50 people, it has no signs whatsoever, its boarded-up windows the only testament to its rarely seen congregation.
Trust deeds obtained by the Weekend Herald shows it to be in the hands of a clutch of male Exclusive Brethren members, all of whom can be removed if they are no longer in fellowship with the minister of the Lord in the Recovery – Hales. Other deeds, such as on their $2.6 million headquarters in Mangere and its nearby school property, say the same.
Hales therefore has the power to veto the trustees – and some kind of control – over a vast network of properties. Hales’ spectre also looms over the 800 Brethren businesses spread across 40 New Zealand towns and cities.
Like the meeting rooms, the businesses are similarly nondescript. They are often to do with machinery, pumps, or office supplies, but their networking is now said to be more entrenched than basic business and beliefs.
A leaked document – signed last year by Hales and leading Wanganui-based Exclusive Brethren member Allan Davis – indicates that all Exclusive Brethren businesses worldwide are expected to give over their bookkeeping to an organisation called National Office Assist.
The document says this will mean they don’t have to rely on “worldly” contractors and operate more efficiently without computers. There will be an email service, telemarketing, employment and training for young Exclusive Brethren and income will go back into things like schooling.
It means Home Office Assist – and therefore Hales and the sect’s leadership, say former Brethren – will oversee the financial management information of all Brethren businesses.
All this adds up to what the former Exclusive Brethren call the “Hales system”, envelopes of tax-free donations taken to Australia by the Brethren mules, businesses exempt from unionism, a network of 15 schools nationwide that get some taxpayer funding, and a swag of properties that don’t pay rates because they are places of worship. And that is just the New Zealand end.
Exclusive Brethren members approached for this article did not want to discuss Hales or the way that their belief in him interacts with property and business.
One, prominent Auckland member, Neville Simmons, says he “won’t lower” himself to comment on what he thought of the portrayal of Hales by those outside the sect, and simply laughed when asked to explain the role of the Elect Vessel.
“I really have got no comment on it,” Simmons says. “It is a big subject that I really could not do justice to.”
The Exclusive Brethren are as closed as their churches when it comes to the media these days, stung by the scrutiny of their secretive foray into politics. Emerging from that scrutiny were allegations this week of covering up sexual abuse.
When approached, some are friendly, some are smug and some are clearly shaken by the media interest, such as the two young men who spotted a Herald photographer taking shots of their new Cambridge church and chased her for 23km, sometimes tailgating her.
All decline to comment, but push hard enough and you might get nodded agreement to the following: that they are normal, law-abiding New Zealanders; that the media don’t know them and don’t talk to their friends, neighbours and people with whom they do business.
They also indicate that none of the $1.2 million used for campaigning against Labour and the Greens came from the Exclusive Brethren coffers overseas, that it was an entirely separate initiative by member businessmen here.
In Australia, Green Party senator Christine Milne has made claims about a British-registered company called Ratby Distribution Ltd, that she says has been funnelling money around the world for political donations.
Exclusive Brethren here say no such connection has been drawn, despite the number of times the question has been asked.
Yet the public record does not reflect true detachment, given the range of political activities by Exclusive Brethren members – whether putting up National Party elections hoardings, using a schoolboy to push-poll, or meeting with their man Don Brash.
Members even tried to split New Zealand First to help National get a majority during the coalition negotiations.
About all they haven’t done is given up their belief of not voting.
And they haven’t given up.
Despite eventually being shunned by National leader Dr Brash as a damaging electoral millstone, their distaste for Prime Minister Helen Clark is such that an Exclusive Brethren member hired a private investigator to spy on her, her husband, and Labour ministers and is said to be sitting on information that is “TNT times five million”.
In the past two years the international picture has been the same. In Australia there have been the extremes of sect members abusing Green candidates while disguised by animal masks, and other members meeting Prime Minister John Howard.
In Canada they attacked civil union legislation, using postboxes in 7-Eleven convenience stores; in the United States they covertly funded support for the 2004 re-election of president George Bush.
In Sweden this year they have funded an advertising campaign reported to be worth millions of crowns supporting the centre-right Alliance for Sweden.
Their direct political involvement neatly coincided with the appointment of Bruce Hales as Elect Vessel in 2002.
Their previous public involvement in New Zealand politics consisted mainly of attempts over two decades to get exemptions from labour laws on spiritual grounds – granted by the Labour Party in 2000 but now in danger of being taken away because the concession was made on the grounds that there was no political motivation.
Aside from that, they seem to have gone no further than getting an exemption from the Minister of Education that their children need not take part in jazzercise.
The new push started tamely enough with a document titled Suggested Initiatives for Prosperity in New Zealand. It was sent to politicians, including Helen Clark, in 2003 and constitutes some of the earliest evidence worldwide of their political aims.
It was tame enough, with no mention then of opposition to same-sex marriages. It just expressed the desire to return New Zealand to its place in the world of the 1950s, through methods such as creating a “positive national mindset regarding immigration and population”, that included increasing the refugee quota because “these people are motivated to work hard and assimilate”.
It even seemed a little naive. A simplistic diagram showed how their key elements for growth – others included taxation, superannuation and decentralisation – coupled with legislation and strong leadership, could swirl New Zealand back to the heyday of the 1950s.
But a few lines in the section on defence gave a little away about what was to underpin their political drive. They wanted New Zealand to apologise for opposing the Iraq war and having an anti-American attitude and to rebuild the Armed Forces.
The Exclusive Brethren were emerging as a force of the religious right, and they wanted more than just prosperity for New Zealand.
Why did a sect whose beliefs preclude them from fighting want to support a war? And why, if they couldn’t vote, were they about to so desperately try to influence elections?
The Exclusive Brethren believe in “The Rapture” – that those who are Christian and alive at a particular time will be swept into the next life. Those who are not pure will be left behind.
Historically, that has meant their theology led them away from politics. Those who have studied the Exclusive Brethren believe there may have been a change in their eschatology, or beliefs about the end of the world.
Peter Lineham, associate professor of history at Massey University, says their leaders have come to believe that the return of Jesus is delayed because George Bush is doing God’s will in bringing the Muslims to heel.
“So they have come, in some sense, to believe in a delay of the rapture at this time, and that it is their obligation during this delay to protect the world and their interests,” Lineham says.
Marion Maddox, a senior lecturer in religious studies at Victoria University and author of God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics, says the recent push to get former members to return to the group – another Hales initiative – also points to a belief that political intervention, while economically advantageous, also has the effect of helping keep the end of the world at bay so that as many as possible can rejoin.
But those outside the Exclusive Brethren have become some of its most vocal opponents.
Take Vincent Field. He isn’t against the Exclusive Brethren because of their political viewpoints. In fact, he doesn’t know exactly what they are. And he isn’t against them because of their secretive attempts to influence elections.
He’s against them because he believes they have a sinister side, because they break up families just like they broke up his.
He spent 3 years in a custody dispute between his excommunicated parents and his Exclusive Brethren grandparents and decided to speak publicly about the sect for the first time because of his concerns about their involvement in politics.
“Your average Exclusive is a good person,” he says. “It is the leaders that condone [the breaking up of families] and it is the leaders that are getting into all this political stuff. It is the leaders I have something against.”
Many former Exclusive Brethren recite a similar mantra. Still connected to the sect by family members – parents, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and children – they don’t want to hurt the individuals, or even the Exclusive Brethren itself. It is the leadership they don’t like.
Vincent sees an organisation driven by money, anchoring people to it through their family, through their financial security, and through their very core beliefs.
“I don’t know what these leaders are up to,” he says. “But I can’t see any good coming from it.”
Vincent and many others are pleased for the outside scrutiny the Exclusive Brethren have brought on themselves through their political foray and hope it will bring about some kind of split or change of regime in the organisation, enabling them to at least see their families again.
Although the scrutiny here has driven the Exclusive Brethren away from calling on Don Brash, their push in Sweden – not an Exclusive Brethren stronghold – shows yet again the strength of their resolve.
Members here would not be drawn on whether their foray into New Zealand politics was a failure and whether the subsequent vilification was worth all the bother.
Yet again, by pushing, it was possible to get a nodded response that the negative reaction to their involvement actually justified it more than ever. Nodded agreement that the Exclusive Brethren think they might have lost a battle, not the war.
Exclusive Brethren members in New Zealand would not respond to the Weekend Herald.
A LOCAL government election candidate and Lesmurdie resident has vowed to continue the fight against a place of worship being built in the neighbourhood.
Melanie Eleonora and about 600 other residents spoke out against an application made to the Shire of Kalamunda for a place of worship on Rooth Road in the Stirkwood Estate.
However, their objections fell on deaf ears when the Shire of Kalamunda approved the application at a recent council meeting.
Ms Eleonora said residents had nothing against the applicant – Kalamunda Gospel Trust, or the Plymouth Brethren – that intend to use the property, but was afraid of the impacts on the area from future developments.
“We all bought land and property in this estate for a reason and this building will not look like the houses in the area; it doesn’t complement the estate,” she said.
“The place of worship will not benefit the community because it is exclusive and residents will not be permitted to use it.
“But the main thing is that if it is sold on as a place of worship, there is no guarantee that the next owners won’t be disruptive.”
She said the application was passed with a recommendation that stated “the property (will not be) used for Community Purpose or Club Premises purposes as defined under Local Planning Scheme No. 3”.
“I want to investigate that it is legally binding,” she said.
Ms Eleonora said she was angry the Shire did not appear to consider residents’ views when making the approval decision.
“Two separate petitions were submitted, each with more than 250 signatures, and 80 letters of objection were sent to the Shire, but they didn’t take any notice,” she said.
“A traffic management report was made that said the place of worship would create ‘minimal impact’ but not zero impact, so there will still be an impact.”
“I will keep on this issue… I still have a few tricks up my sleeve,” she said.
A private school run by the Brethren religious group has become the largest to apply to join the state sector as an integrated school.
Westmount School has 1600 students scattered across 24 sites from Northland to Southland. The Education Ministry says it is preparing a report on the application for the Education Minister.
The Westmount Education Trust says integration has worked well for Catholic, Jewish and Islamic schools and would be good for Westmount School.
It says it would give the school greater opportunities to share its teaching methods and allow its students to benefit from increased resources.
However, the Post Primary Teachers Association and the Educational Institute oppose the application.
They say government funding for the school will leap from $2.3 million a year to more than $9 million, and that money would be better spent elsewhere.
Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts says the funding won’t help the Maori, Pasifika and low-income children the Government wants to help most.
Educational Institute secretary Paul Goulter says the state system cannot afford another school.
“This is going to come into a state system that’s already underfunded and it’s really having difficulty with existing levels of resources, and here’s another group of students coming in and that will place even more pressure on it,” he says.
Mr Goulter says the Educational Institute is suspicious of the integration process because the Government late last year agreed to integrate Wanganui Collegiate, even though there is no need for more state school places in Whanganui or the surrounding region.
THE fast-growing Mundaring Gospel Trust is unlikely to be able to build a new, 800-person meeting hall on a 6ha block on Coppin Road, Parkerville, after the Shire of Mundaring unanimously voted in favour of changes to its Draft Local Planning Schem
The changes would allow a place of worship to be built only on land zoned Light Industry, Service Commercial and General Agriculture Zoning – not Rural Landscape Living.
Councillors had voted unanimously to reject the trust’s meeting hall proposal in May, on grounds the development was not in keeping with the rural landscape and would have a detrimental visual impact on the scenic values of the locality.
The trust – also known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church – appealed to the State Administrative Tribunal and wrote to Housing Minister Bill Marmion, who had to review the scheme because Planning Minister John Day had a conflict of interests.
Mr Marmion said he believed the scheme “could be more flexible” for places of worship and requested the shire modify its local planning scheme and re-|advertise the amendments for public comment.
After receiving 324 submissions during the public comment period from July to August – split equally between those in favour and those opposed to the Draft Local Planning Scheme changes – shire councillors unanimously voted in favour of changes to restrict place of worship construction from Rural Landscape Living zones at a meeting this week.
Stoneville and Par-kerville Progress Association chairman Greg Jones said although the modification to the Draft Local Planning Scheme No.4 related to a place of worship, the issue had never been about religion. “It is not about who or why a place of worship should be developed, but it is about where and how that development affects its surrounds,” Mr Jones said.
He said the recommendations accepted by the council would provide clarity, certainty and more options to religious groups wanting to locate a place of worship in the Shire of Mundaring.
“The modification also provides future certainty to residents in Rural Landscape Living Zones and will help to preserve the amenity of the Hills lifestyle we all value so much.”
The next step is for the WA Planning Commission to review the shire’s resolution and schedule of submissions and make a final report before a decision is made by Mr Marmion.
The Mundaring Gospel Trust could not be reached for comment.
Commission to meet grantmaker to discuss its corporate trustees
The Charity Commission plans to meet the trustees of the Grace Trust, whose income has grown nearly seven-fold in five years, following enquiries raised about its unusual governance structure which involves two corporate trustees.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “Our concerns about the charity relate to the unusual corporate structure of the organisation whereby the charity has two corporate trustees. We are looking at whether this raises any issues in terms of the processes for decision-making within the charity.”
The practice of having corporate trustees has come under scrutiny in recent months following the case of the Cup Trust, which has one corporate trustee and has been accused of running a gift aid-based tax-avoidance scheme.
There is no suggestion that the Grace Trust has been accused of tax-avoidance or gift aid fraud.
The Grace Trust describes itself as a trust which makes grants in a number of areas including medicine, poverty relief, life preservation and education. Support to educational charities forms the largest part of its charitable activities.
The charity has two corporate trustees – Aller Brook Ltd and Scribefort Ltd, which are based at the same address in Devon. It has no other trustees nor any staff.
It has seen great income growth since 2008. Its income has grown by 673 per cent from £9.5m in 2007/8 to £73.5m for the year ended June 2012.
During 2011/12 the charity made 65 grants totalling £21.4m, 43 of which were made to education charities.
The bulk of its gross income – £60.7m – was from the turnover of its two trading subsidiaries: Onefocus EU Ltd and Technoa SAS. According to the latest accounts, Onefocus EU “provides business services to raise revenue for charitable purposes” while Technoa SAS is “registered in France and carries out wholesale activity”.
The profit after tax for Onefocus EU Ltd, plus the donation it made by way of gift aid to the Grace Trust, totalled £11.8m. If a charity-owned company donates its parent charity an amount equal to its entire profit it can reduce its corporation tax liability to nil.
Onefocus EU changed its name in June to UBT (EU) Ltd, according to Companies House. In 2009, it changed its name from Unifocus Ltd. The nature of its business, under the name UBT (EU) Ltd, is described as “retail sale via mail order houses or via internet”.
Affiliated to Exclusive Brethren
The charity is understood to be affiliated with the Exclusive Brethren, which provides general services to Brethren groups. There has been a long-running dispute over the Charity Commission’s refusal of charitable status for Preston Down Trust, a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Devon.
A spokesman for the Grace Trust said it had provided a written response to the Charity Commission, and that a meeting with the regulator had been postponed and is in the process of being rearranged.
“The Grace Trust is very happy to meet the Charity Commission and actively welcomes the opportunity,” he said. “We operate in line with best-practice principles and are pleased to adopt an ongoing dialogue with the Charity Commission.”
The Commission declined to say who had contacted it with concerns about the Grace Trust.
A former middle school building has been sold by Suffolk County Council for £1.2million to an independent trust set up by a Christian church group.
A spokesman for the local authority confirmed that the sale of Stoke by Nayland Middle School to the Focus Learning Trust – established on behalf of the Plymouth Brethren Christian church – had now gone through.
The deal included the school building, grounds and £60,000 worth of furnishings and fittings.
The county has retained two cottages on the site, which it plans to make available through a social housing authority for the next three years.
The parish council and local charities including the Lady Ann Windsor Trust will then have a chance to acquire the properties for social housing purposes.
Stoke by Nayland Middle School is one of 40 Suffolk schools which closed in July as part of the county-wide school organisation review (SOR).
In March, the Plymouth Brethren Christian church, also known as the Exclusive Brethren, put in an offer for the school site, which includes nine acres of land.
Last night, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for finance and property, Colin Noble, told the EADT: “The sale of the site to the Focus Learning Trust is now complete and they are already working to reopen the building as a school.
“We have retained ownership of two cottages on the land, which we plan to make available for social housing.
“When a school site becomes surplus to the county council’s requirements, it’s important that we secure the best value for money from any sale or ensure sustainable community use for years to come.
“We believe that the best solution for this site has been found.”
The Seckford Foundation, which runs Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools, put in a bid to open a free school at Stoke by Nayland, but withdrew after plans were refused by the Government.
The Plymouth Brethren church dates back to the early 19th Century and its members run about 100 schools worldwide, including 45 in the UK.
It is believed that two of the church’s other schools – one in Ipswich and another in Colchester – will be amalgamated on the Stoke by Nayland site, which will open as a day school next month for up to 200 pupils aged from three to 13 years.
Last night, no-one from the Plymouth Brethren church was available to comment on the purchase of the school.
Local county councillor James Finch said he was delighted that the village was able to retain a school, which would boost the local economy.