Two more damning articles in the Times and a letter

Another two damning articles in the Times and a letter

Today’s Times has two more articles by Mostrous and Kenber giving further grounds for serious concern about the Exclusive Brethren, and a letter about them from Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.

The first article has the headline

Private-school sect ‘took £½m state cash in deal with colleges’
It describes how a Focus school had an arrangement with Barnet and Southgate College to get Government cash for merely enrolling some of their students at the College. It says,

Leaked documents suggest that the pupils continued to be taught the same lessons by Brethren-employed teachers. Barnet College appeared to have no involvement in teaching the pupils beyond conducting “lesson observations”.

The second, much longer article describes some of the bizarre policies at Focus schools. The headline is

The class that was scared of biology. ‘They thought it was linked to the Devil’
The article describes an extraordinary degree of censorship of teaching materials, amounting to the removal of several important topics from the curriculum and an entirely inadequate treatment of other important topics. It also describes extraordinary and disturbing aspects of the ethos and culture within Focus schools. It is based on the testimony of eight former teachers.


Eight former teachers at Brethren schools, most of whom left in the past two years, variously claim they were required to use science textbooks with pages ripped out, that boys and girls were prevented from talking to one another outside class and that bullying, racism and homophobia were endemic.


“They were scared of biology,” the teacher, who has since left, claimed. “They were very negative when you mentioned it. They associated it with the devil.” She claims that she was instructed to remove large numbers of pages from textbooks.

“There were things removed from everything I taught. They took out everything to do with sexual reproduction, including hormones, fertility, birth control, and removed anything to with evolution.”

A male teacher at another Brethren school, who left in 2013, made similar claims. “Anything that showed the Earth as being 4 billion years old was removed or glued together,” he said. The same thing happened with pages about contraception while “anything that showed gay relationships as being normal was defaced in that way as well”.


Teachers and former members who spoke to The Times, however, claimed that Brethren children were often intolerant of anyone who was different from their own largely white, Anglo-Saxon community.

When one teacher put on a DVD clip which happened to feature a black woman, she claims the pupils “all started making monkey noises and saying that black people were a different species. I was told that we couldn’t discipline [them]”.

Another former staff member, who taught science, claimed: “They don’t see anything wrong with saying black people are going to hell.”


A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “If any evidence is presented to us that a school is not keeping children safe from the risks posed by intolerant views, it will be investigated.”


Most of the former staff who spoke to The Times said their abiding memory of Brethren schools was one of the sadness they felt for the wasted promise of many pupils. One said: “I just feel sorry for them because there is no out — they’re not equipped with the skills and the ones who leave, it’s so difficult for them.”

Here also is the text of a letter to the Editor.


[Letter to The Times]
Last updated at 8:15PM, March 20 2015
Sir, The logic of the argument advanced by the chairman of the Charity Commission defending his organisation’s decision to award charitable status for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (letter, Mar 19) does not withstand scrutiny.

William Shawcross asserts that the commission was “the first public authority to put on record the ‘detriment and harm’ caused by the doctrines and practices of the Brethren”. He then states that, after concessions, it registered various Brethren organisations as charities. Awarding charitable status to these bodies under any circumstances means that they can claim Gift Aid, which boosts the resources of the very organisations the commission previously found caused “detriment and harm”.

The reality of the matter is that the commission has taken a positive decision to facilitate the Brethren’s existence. A full explanation of the process and the individuals involved in granting this “harmful” organisation charitable status must follow.

Sir Stephen Bubb

Chief executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations

More from the Times

Two more embarrassing articles about the Exclusive Brethren have appeared in today’s Times (Wednesday 18th March 2015). The first one is again the work of Alexi Mostrous and Billy Kenber. Here are some extracts from them.

On page 7 we have this. You can access the start of the article at


Inquiry at sect schools that banned books
The funding of British faith schools run by an extreme religious sect is under investigation by the taxman over multi-million pound gift aid claims, The Times has learnt.
. . .
Revenue & Customs is examining whether the Brethren have wrongly claimed thousands of tax rebates on parental donations that help fund their schools’ £30 million-a-year operation. If HMRC finds against the single Brethren school under investigation, tax relief of up to £4 million a year across all the sect’s schools could be at risk.
. . .
The Times can also reveal that Brethren schools secretly introduced school fees four years ago, despite claiming in brochures and accounts filed with the Charity Commission that its schools were free. The fees, which parents were told were obligatory, were recorded as “voluntary income” in an arrangement that will raise further questions about the schools’ financial structure.

A 2011 letter announcing the introduction of yearly “fees” of £1,500 per child stated that fees were “an essential principle of righteousness in our administration” and that “an invoice will be issued direct from the individual schools shortly”.

Parents at one school were later warned that “fees should be regarded as an obligation in the same way as paying your electricity and other household bills”. Yet accounts filed by the school trusts said they were “non-fee paying”.
. . .
The spokesman said that in 2011 “a modest sum” had been requested from parents. It was initially described as a fee but subsequently changed to “parental contribution” on legal advice.

Although schools can claim gift aid on “voluntary contributions”, a Brethren spokesman insisted that no school had claimed tax relief on this element of funding. He accepted, however, that tax inspectors had questioned gift aid claims made on donations from parents.

“Such issues as there have been derive from uncertainty about the correct application of the rules,” he said. “Other faith schools are also currently being investigated by HMRC over gift aid.”

Then on page 27 we have the first of the leading Editorial Articles. You can access the start of it at


Brethren in the Spotlight
A Christian sect took no prisoners in its fight for charitable status. For the sake of the whole voluntary sector, the Charity Commission must stand up to it.
. . .
The Exclusive Brethren boast only 17,000 followers in Britain but their battle for charitable status is a vital test case for the voluntary sector. It should have brought clarity on the responsibilities of charities in general and private faith schools in particular. Instead it has yielded confusion on policy and extraordinary threats aimed at the commission’s chairman, William Shawcross. Evidence has emerged of serious emotional suffering among the sect’s present and former members, of unacceptable censorship at Brethren-run schools, and of tax breaks worth millions for an organisation that funnels cash to its leader in Australia.
. . .
A Times investigation has established that when the Charity Commission decided not to grant the Exclusive Brethren’s application for charitable status subject to appeal, the sect fought back with a campaign of ferocious intimidation. Mr Hales advised that “extreme pressure” be applied on Mr Shawcross. He urged underlings to “go for the jugular”. Commission staff were followed by sect members, who also sent the commission more than 3,000 letters and lobbied MPs relentlessly at constituency surgeries.

Yesterday Sir Stephen Bubb, the head of Britain’s largest charity leaders’ association, called on Mr Shawcross to explain why the sect was granted charitable status last year. It is a good question. As we have reported, more than 200 MPs wrote to the commission or otherwise helped the sect, and five wrote direct to the principal judge of the charity tribunal. She rebuked them for their inappropriate intervention, but something worked. Instead of airing the case in public, the commission struck a deal behind closed doors.

MPs may have been persuaded that the sect was a fringe but blameless church entitled to their support. Spokesmen insist it is just that and deny all wrongdoing. Inspectors of the sect’s 34 British schools have on the whole given them positive reports. Yet ex-members speak of strict rules against contact with outsiders and harsh discipline for those who break them. Former teachers describe school buses segregated by gender, casual classroom racism and textbooks with pages on evolution, fossil fuels and sexual reproduction torn out or glued together.

The sect denies the claims, but they are far too serious to be swept under a quango’s carpet.
. . .
The commission must re-examine its 2014 decision without fear, favour or obfuscation. HMRC must scrutinise the sect’s accounts anew to establish whether the tax relief of £13 million a year that it enjoys is truly warranted. And Ofsted should show more interest in the sect’s schools, whose inspections are outsourced to a private contractor that has raised no concerns about a curriculum that appears to many former teachers to endorse creationism and teach evolution as no more than a theory.

A free society should be comfortable with eccentricity, but not with charitable status misused as a cover for cult-like oppression.

If you want to read the entire articles and yesterday’s whole pages of articles, you can buy a 30-day subscription to the On-Line Edition of The Times for £1.

PBCC response to Times Article March 2015

PBCC response to Times Article March 2015

1. £13M Tax break The headline suggests that the Charity Commission decision secured all tax reliefs for all Brethren charities. This is nonsense, as the Commission decision only related to the gospel hall trusts. The charitable status of other charities administered by the community was never in doubt.

2. The charity regulator secured tax breaks for PBCC worth millions per year The Charity Commission decision concerned the gospel hall trusts. By the article’s own estimation, the gift aid reclaims made by the hall trusts is £125,000 for construction, and “Unknown” for upkeep. Rating relief (claimed by the article to be worth £3m) does not depend upon registration with the Charity Commission, as it is granted by local authorities to places of public religious worship, and has nothing to do with charitable status. The charity regulator secured tax breaks” is also wrong. Tax breaks are determined by HMRC, which can (and does) take its own view.

3. PBCC ‘shun outsiders’ This is untrue, as a multitude of our non-brethren friends in business, schools and local communities would confirm

4. “Strict disciplinary practices” PBCC disciplinary practices follow the teachings of the Bible, as outlined in Schedule 2 ‘Faith in Practice’, -approved by the Charity Commission. Discipline is rare, and used only as a last resort.

5. Brethren lobbying campaign PBCC members support whatever Government is in power and make use of their democratic right to approach MPs or Peers about any issues of concern. There is nothing illegal about individuals choosing to help MPs, for example by distributing leaflets.

6. ‘Cult’ accusation The PBCC is a mainstream Christian church.

7. Brethren life restricted & controlled PBCC members find their lives to be full, varied and rewarding.

8. Travel is limited PBCC members travel widely, often overseas, for Church, family, business and educational reasons.

9. STI data collection The PBCC does not undertake such surveys.

10. Large cash reserves for ‘end of world’ This is complete nonsense.

11. ‘Rapture’ in 2022 The Lord Jesus said “ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” Matthew 25: 13

12. Hewitt family shut up for ‘unauthorized’ computer This is false.

13. The ‘money trail’ diagram This diagram is a misrepresentation including many inaccurate estimations, assumptions and spurious claims. The Gospel Hall Trusts are recognised by the Valuation Office Agency as public places of religious worship and are therefore (like all public places of religious worship such as synagogues and churches) entitled to claim relief from liability on non-domestic rates. This relief is not linked to their charitable status.

14. 340 windowless meeting rooms across the country with security gates We protect our Gospel Halls, which have been paid for entirely by our members. Many Brethren Gospel Halls do have windows. For example, Blackborough End Meeting Hall. Kings Lynn.

15. The Brethren believe the rest of the world is evil Like millions of other parents, PBCC parents want to protect their young people from damaging influences.

16. Children move out of homes when parents shut up Shutting up is rare. It is the choice of the parents if their children move to family or friends. If older teenagers decide to move out temporarily it would be at their own prerogative and with the full consent of the parents.

17. Following CC decision, ‘nothing has changed’ Nothing has changed in Holy Scripture, nor will it ever change, but there has been a renewed committal and putting into practise of fairness and compassion.

18. The 76 slide presentation This was done by an individual member and did not meet with general approval.

19. Letter read out about helping Conservatives False. No such letter was read out.

20. ‘secretive Christian sect’ The PBCC website gives details of our services and beliefs.

21. Exclusive Brethren struck a deal with the Charity Commission’ False. The Charity Commission reached their decision independently after careful investigation and examination of all the evidence

22. brethren have lived in secretive communities, isolating themselves from the rest of society. False. PBCC members live in ordinary residential areas and interact with society in business and other areas