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Cornwall-based charity in 'international crisis' after sudden sacking of key figure

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 26, 2012

  • ShelterBox founder Tom Henderson is appealing against his sacking by the charity's board of trustees

  • ShelterBox founder Tom Henderson is appealing against his sacking by the charity's board of trustees

The sudden sacking of its co-founder and chief executive appears to have sent one of the Westcountry's best known charities into a spiralling international crisis, leaked documents suggest.

Tom Henderson set up the disaster relief charity ShelterBox in 2000 which has since helped tens of thousands of victims of natural catastrophes all over the world.

But in a shock move, the former Royal Navy officer was dismissed as chief executive in July and offered the post of president – an offer that was later withdrawn.

A raft of leaked documents, from a bundle which is clearly incomplete, suggest his sacking sparked an international backlash from some affiliates across the world with calls for the board of trustees to resign en masse.

They also suggest the reason for his sacking was so-called "related party transactions" to Mr Henderson's son John and his company.

Mr Henderson, whose wife Jane died on August 3, said he was unable to comment because of his ongoing appeal against his dismissal.

A spokesman for ShelterBox said it was "deeply disappointed that misleading and partial information has been leaked to the press" saying it represented "a smear campaign against the board".

The papers, which were sent to the Western Morning News anonymously, show that respected businessman Sir John Banham, who later resigned from the board, raised serious concerns about the grounds for the sacking.

In a note to the board the day after Mr Henderson was fired, Sir John wrote: "I am bound to say, however, that the dismissal of Tom Henderson for cause would be a very serious mistake, and not just because it was not discussed, let alone agreed, by the trustees, it is totally incompatible with the presidency offer.

"How can the trustees consider Tom Henderson for a pivotal role in the future if they have just dismissed him for cause?"

Payments to John Henderson's companies Ocean Fabrication Limited and Camping Solutions Limited are detailed in ShelterBox's accounts published by the Charity Commission.

They show payments from ShelterBox for "disaster relief materials" of £6,740 in 2011 and £454,675 in 2010. The accounts also show payments of £38,601 in 2011 and £23.135 for "other goods and services".

In June, Sir John, penned a report for trustees titled "A way ahead for ShelterBox".

"It does not seem to me that the trustees do in fact have reasonable grounds for suspicion," it said.

"The fact of regular related party transactions – the enquiry failed to unearth and wrongdoing or damage to the charity's interests, and it confirmed that John Henderson, has many interest outside ShelterBox, and that the (modest) quantum of remuneration from the ShelterBox relationship was as previously disclosed."

A timeline of events, which is understood to have been collated for some affiliate members, shows that Mr Henderson was sacked on July 24 but offered the role of president later the same day.

Mr Henderson confirmed his appeal against his dismissal on July 30.

The crisis reached its height on August 2, when Sir John resigned at an emergency meeting of the board. The offer of the presidential role was withdrawn the same night.

Deputy chief operating officer Lasse Peterson has also now resigned.

A spokesman for ShelterBox said he was unable to comment in detail because of Mr Henderson's ongoing appeal.

But, he said: "Very sadly it has become clear that an individual or individuals are running a smear campaign against the board of ShelterBox Trust. This smear campaign grossly misrepresents the situation and by doing so threatens all that ShelterBox does to save and protect lives around the world."

The spokesman said the leaked information gave "a wholly one-sided, selective and inaccurate picture of the circumstances leading up to Mr Henderson's dismissal". Legal advice had been sought throughout the process.

He said: "Throughout this difficult period the objectives of the management and board of ShelterBox have centred around integrity, protection of donors money, strong governance and openness and transparency within our legal and moral obligations."

He went on: "It is disappointing that those involved in the smear campaign are seeking to damage an organisation and individuals within it who are involved, many on a voluntary basis, to alleviate suffering around the world."

End of day email confirmed sacking

Tom Henderson’s association with the charity he founded ended in an email which demanded he stay away from ShelterBox premises.

An email to Mr Henderson from chairman of trustees Ian Munday was titled “Withdrawal of offer of presidential role”. It was sent at 9.30pm on August 2.

“I must inform you that, on legal advice, the offer is formally revoked with immediate effect,” it read. “Following your dismissal as CEO (chief executive officer), the board requires you to return all company property forthwith. This includes keys to the charity’s properties, your credit card, the car and car keys, the laptop, the mobile phone and all file, papers and records belonging to the organisation which you recently removed from your previous office including all copies in electronic form or otherwise.”

It went on: “You are to no longer attend at any of the ShelterBox premises. Further you are to desist immediately from holding yourself out as an employee, consultant or any form of representative of ShelterBox.”

It concluded: “Despite the circumstances the board do acknowledge all the work you have done to build the charity and we shall endeavour to continue that work to preserve your legacy.”

Later that night staff were told, again by email, that Mr Henderson had “not accepted” the position of president.

In another email on the night of August 2, Mr Munday wrote to international affiliates saying the board had been “working to resolve a major issue concerning the breach of a key policy by CEO Tom Henderson”.

“This risk posed a significant risk to the charity and there is a legal obligation to report this to our regulator the Charity Commission. Following an independent investigation and although they do not believe the law to have been broken, the trustees have taken the decision that it is no longer appropriate for Tom to retain the position of CEO or any other executive post.”

The above details are from the leaked documents, which are not a complete record.

International affiliates suspend cash transfers

The sacking of Tom Henderson sparked a furious response from some of the charity’s international affiliates which threatened to freeze the charity’s funds abroad.

Within hours of Mr Henderson’s dismissal on July 24, some of the charity’s affiliates emailed chairman of the trustees Ian Munday raising “serious concerns”.

Six days later, two members of ShelterBox’s international consultative committee tabled a series of recommendations to the board.

“We are extremely concerned about the manner in which the board have managed this whole affair,” they said. “We have grave concerns about the global impact and global consequences to the ShelterBox aims and objectives of this crisis and the lasting credibility of ShelterBox.”

They called for Mr Henderson to be reinstated immediately or for the trustees “to agree with him a clear moment when he will move on to the presidential role”.

They also demanded that Mr Munday resign immediately with Sir John Banham suggested as his replacement.

The rest of the board, they said, should go by the end of the year, allowing Sir John to appoint “newly selected international board members”.

Only that would “save ShelterBox from total public disgrace and disintegration”.

The papers suggest that on August 5, three days after Sir John has resigned from the board, eight out of 21 affiliates tabled a motion of no confidence in the board.

It added: “Pending a complete and thorough investigation into the use of resources we: Inform you that, with immediate effect, all money transfers from our affiliate are suspended until matters are resolved in a satisfactory way, so that we are confident that funds are being used to further the work of ShelterBox Trust, namely bringing relief to disaster victims;

“Demand that all financial transactions by ShelterBox International HQ using money provided by our donors through our affiliate organisation are suspended and frozen until we give written permission to resume their use; Furthermore we reserve the right to retain ownership and recovery of any and all materials purchased using our funds.

“And if these demands are not met immediately as of Monday, August 6, we will consider bringing a complaint to the UK Charity Commission against ShelterBox Trust and/or dismantling our national organisation.”

It is not known what the outcome of the motion was.

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