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UK News

Head of leading Christian charity, Ben Cooley, sacked after serious allegations over behaviour

by Donna Birrell

The chief executive of the Christian charity, Hope for Justice, Ben Cooley, has been sacked after an investigation into allegations about his behaviour.

The charity says two former employees had come forward via the charity's confidential whistleblowing procedure.

Cooley, who co-founded the anti-human trafficking charity thirteen years ago, was instructed to take a leave of absence while the allegations were investigated.

Chair of trustees at Hope For Justice, Peter Elson, said: "While the allegations were not of a criminal nature and no other members of the leadership team were implicated, they were determined to be serious and the Charity Commission was duly informed.

"The trustee board took immediate action in commissioning an independent and experienced investigator and legal counsel on 28 January 2021. The independent investigator was charged with conducting an evidence-based investigation in order to establish the full facts and circumstances relating to the concerns and allegations presented."

Mr Elson said that based on the findings of the investigation and recommendations, disciplinary action was initiated.

"Ben Cooley subsequently attended a disciplinary hearing and is no longer with the organisation, subject to the potential of an appeal."

When asked by Premier for more information about the nature of the allegations, Hope For Justice said it was unable to provide any further details in order to protect the identities of those involved and the integrity of the investigation.

The charity did however confirm that its partners have been kept informed about the development.

Ben Cooley has not responded to Premier's requests for a comment, but speaking to Civil Society News, he said: "I wish that the process had been handled better and more consideration had been given to the fact that there was limited evidence available due to the historical nature of the allegation. Whilst I fundamentally disagree with the outcome, after 13 years as the founder and chief executive of Hope for Justice, my only hope and prayer is that it will continue to thrive and rescue countless men, women and children caught up in human trafficking."

Writing on his Facebook page he later said: "Whilst I cannot agree with decisions recently being made around my leaving Hope for Justice. Hope For Justice will forever be in my heart. "

A Charity Commission spokesperson said it has recently received an update to the "serious incident report" which it is assessing:

"In January 2021 we assessed a serious incident report submitted by the charity, in connection with concerns about the former chief executive. Based on the information provided, we determined that the charity was handling the matter appropriately and that no further action was required by the Commission. The charity has kept us informed throughout the independent investigation. We recently received an update to the serious incident report and are currently assessing this information."

It's reported that no payment has been made to Mr Cooley following his departure. 

In a statement to Premier, Steve Ball, CEO of the Christian safeguarding charity Thirty One:Eight said: "For Christian organisations, creating environments in which everyone is safe and can flourish is fundamental to our purpose as God's Church. Building safer, healthier culture is all about modelling attitudes and behaviours to those around us to achieve this purpose. This includes clear lines of accountability so that any person in the organisation knows how to discuss and refer matters of concern.  

"In any organisation there needs to be a mechanism in place for workers to be able to raise legitimate concerns (e.g. improper actions or omissions) about other workers and leaders, with impunity. Commonly known as 'whistleblowing', the reporting principles are contained in the Public Disclosure Act 1998.  

"Despite our best intentions and the best strategic planning, our work and ministry will be limited in its ability to flourish unless we can demonstrate that it is founded on and characterised by a well-informed culture - one that is safe and healthy." 

Hope for Justice, which works to end human trafficking and modern slavery, has appointed Mr Cooley's co-founder, Tim Nelson as interim CEO.   

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