A LEADING Scottish university has been accused of putting pressure on a "whistleblower" not to publicise concerns about a charity that is alleged to have spent just £1.5 million of £13 million raised on good causes.
The University of Dundee, which has an international reputation for its work in cancer research, knew of anxieties about Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) for more than two years before the charity’s assets were frozen by the courts.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh froze the charity’s assets last week following allegations that the group’s fundraiser, Tony Freeman, of Glasgow, was paid about 60 per cent - some 8 million - of the charity’s cash in commission.
Last year, the charity pledged to fund a 5 million initiative to establish the Breast Cancer Research Scotland Unit at Dundee University, which is aiming to become the principal centre in Europe for research into the disease.
It has since emerged that Allen Mackenzie, the university’s director of development, had previously written to a political lobby group to ask it to remove material from its website that expressed concerns over fundraising methods employed by Breast Cancer Research (Scotland).
The anxieties over the charity’s dealings were posted on the website of the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign (SBCC) in 1999. Moira Adams, then convener of the SBCC, subsequently lodged a formal complaint with the Scottish Charities Office in March 2000.
In a letter to the SBCC, Mr Mackenzie wrote regarding the mentions of Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) on the website: "I am sure that you will agree that anything inhibiting their ability to attract further funds for research into understanding breast cancer and treat it could be extremely damaging, so I respectfully ask you to remove the erroneous reference about Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) from your website."
He added: "You will appreciate our concern when we discovered your reference suggesting some impropriety in the way that Breast Cancer (Research) Scotland functions. Our experience is wholly to the contrary."
The reference was eventually removed following a meeting of Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign’s board members after concerns were raised that they could be subject to legal action.
A further mention of Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) was inadvertently made on the website after a newsletter was published and again Mr Mackenzie wrote asking that the site be amended. Mrs Adams, said yesterday: "I hope that the reason for this was not because the University of Dundee did not want to dig too deep in case they found something and were not able to take the funding."
A spokeswoman for the university said yesterday that it had received funds from Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) in good faith but that it had no responsibility for the charity. She added: "We accept that the then director of development wrote to Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign in December 2000 and in April 2001. At that time the university had no reason to doubt the integrity of Breast Cancer Research (Scotland).
"Allen Mackenzie, former director of development at the University of Dundee, left the university’s employment following a reorganisation and his post was abolished in 2002."
The university is understood to have received 500,000 of the 5 million funding that was pledged over five years.
According to its annual report the Scottish Charities Office, which is part of the Crown Office, was investigating 127 charities at the turn of the year.
Mrs Adams said: "There are probably a number of charities that are not behaving as charities should, but the Scottish Charities Office just does not have the manpower or legal clout to do anything about them, which is why it took so long for the case of Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) to come to light. Charities in Scotland do not even have to undergo a full examination of their accounts but people wrongly assume that the Scottish Executive or the Crown Office has a vigorous monitoring system in place."
The Scottish Charities Office spent 18 months investigating Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) prior to the Court of Session’s ruling on Friday to freeze the charity’s assets and suspend Mr Freeman and three trustees from any role in the charity’s management.
A spokeswoman for the Crown Office said yesterday that the 127 investigations also included charities who had contacted the Scottish Charities Office for advice and help.
She said: "The Scottish Charities Office is adequately funded to investigate complaints and allegations of serious wrong-doing and take court action where that is required. Their success in that area is demonstrated by the result on Friday."