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Move to appoint legal official to manage affairs of Wick charity with £140,000 in bank

By Gordon Calder

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SCOTLAND's top civil court is being petitioned to appoint a legal official to manage the affairs of a Wick-based charity.

The move comes after an investigation by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) following concerns raised by John Mowatt, vice-chairman of the Wick Academy Development Fund (WADF).

OSCR found that the fund – set up to help provide social, leisure and recreational facilities for the town and surrounding area, and registered as a charity in March 2002 – was not acting in "a manner consistent" with its stated aims.

As a result, it is to petition the Court of Session in Edinburgh to appoint a judicial factor to manage the fund's affairs. The trustees have 21 days to appeal.

However, WADF chairman Jacky Gunn said the fund had been wound up "per the constitution" about two months ago and OSCR was informed of the decision.

Highland League club Wick Academy FC has no connection with the fund.

In an email to Mr Mowatt, a copy of which has been seen by the John O'Groat Journal, the charity regulator says WADF is at risk of being removed from the Scottish Charity Register.

It also states that none of the money in the fund's bank account – over £140,000 – should be distributed without the consent of the regulator pending the legal proceedings.

The ruling lasts for up to six months until April 13, 2021. Failure to comply could result in fine of up to £5000, a jail sentence of up to six months or both.

The fund, stated OSCR, raised money by selling lottery tickets in Wick from its formation until April 2009. The following year – September 2010 – the regulator started an inquiry into WADF after concerns were raised "about its failure to make use of its accumulated funds".

It said: "In the period since then OSCR has engaged repeatedly with the charity to try to ensure that it used its funds to further its charitable purposes.

"The charity has not in the period since it suspended fundraising by lottery undertaken activities in furtherance of its charitable purposes (other than the making of enquiries in relation to available land and ultimately unsuccessful discussions with the local authority about support for Wick High School). It has failed to undertake such activities while holding funds of approximately £140,000.

"These funds were raised within the local community in order to further the charity’s purposes."

The money has been lying in the bank for almost 12 years. There are lots of bodies who could do with the money now.

Mr Mowatt, who has been fund vice-chairman for four years, became concerned about its reluctance to distribute the money to local charities in accordance with the constitution. He described the fund as "a closed shop".

He contacted OSCR earlier this year after being approached by a number of people in Wick and is "absolutely delighted" with the response from the charity regulator. Mr Mowatt intends to be at the Court of Session hearing in Edinburgh.

He hopes the outcome will result in the fund helping local sports, leisure and recreational organisations. "The money has been lying in the bank for almost 12 years. There are lots of bodies who could do with the money now," he said.

Colin Stewart, one of a number of people who have raised issues about the development fund, says 'the wheels are in motion'. Picture: Alan Hendry
Colin Stewart, one of a number of people who have raised issues about the development fund, says 'the wheels are in motion'. Picture: Alan Hendry

Colin Stewart, a former chairman of Wick Academy FC and one of a number of people who has raised issues about the fund, said OSCR has "taken heed" of Mr Mowatt's concerns and acted quickly.

Mr Stewart hopes a meeting can be arranged with the charity regulator to discuss the implications of the appointment of a judicial factor and what it means.

"I would like to see this resolved within six months," he said. "The wheels are in motion and I would hope this will be sorted out sooner rather than later, but I am disappointed it had to come to this to get anything done.

"I would have preferred if this could have been sorted amicably rather than going through the legal process."

Jacky Gunn said the fund was closed down according to the rules of the constitution. "We are absolutely sick fed up with all the criticism and have wound it up," he said.

Mr Gunn says the fund is waiting to hear from the charity regulator but has no concerns about the Court of Session hearing.

"We have done nothing wrong and are not worried about it one bit," he said.

Mr Gunn said no decision had yet been made about an appeal and was unable to say what would happen to the money in the fund.

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