The Minister seemed happy with the three-year appointment: “I would like to offer a very warm welcome to Martin Thomas, who brings both a broad range of regulatory and charity sector experience to the role of Charity Commission Chair”. But over at the Good Law Project, the headline was rather different. "New Charity Commission Chair is ‘close friend’ of PM who left charity over inappropriate behaviour” it read. And there was more.
“The Times has reported that Martin Thomas is understood to be ‘close friends’ with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The pair studied Classics at Oxford University at the same time … In 2013, when Johnson was Mayor of London, Mr Thomas gifted him an antique Russian ‘Takema’ watch”. So far, so coincidental. But then come the complaints.
“We understand that three formal complaints were made against Mr Thomas while he was Chair at Women for Women International. The last of these was partly upheld and was the subject of a serious incident report to the Charity Commission in 2021. We’ve heard that, following the investigation into the 2021 complaint, the Board of Women for Women International had planned to ask Mr Thomas to step down as Chair immediately, but he resigned before they could”. And so, following that, came the questions.
“How, despite all of this, did he come to be appointed? Was there political interference? Were references taken up from Women for Women International? Did anyone check with the Charity Commission about his record before appointing him as Chair? What we’ve uncovered casts serious doubt on Mr Thomas’s suitability, and raises grave questions about the integrity of the process. These must be answered as soon as possible”.
And then came the moment of maximum embarrassment for Ms Dorries: Thomas resigned. It seems no-one thought to ask Women for Women International for a reference, which might just have thrown up the matter of those three formal complaints.
Jo Maugham allowed himself a brief moment of rejoicing. “So the guy who gave Boris Johnson a vintage watch and got made Charity Commission Chair despite multiple allegations of misconduct, including sending lingerie photos to female colleagues, has quit. Another scalp for [the Good Law Project]; nice to finish the year as we started it”.
The Dorries Twitter feed has thus far steered clear of this unfortunate reverse. But her Labour shadow Lucy Powell hasn’t, and deputy leader Angela Rayner is on the case. “How could [Nadine Dorries] appoint someone with this awful record? The Tories have made a mockery of the Charity Commission chair first with a political appointee and now with a friend of Boris Johnson's. It's time for someone who is properly impartial”.
And the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, such unswerving supporters of Ms Dorries, and sworn enemies of the Good Law Project, have come over all coy. This is such a mess that not even they can spin it away.
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