Charity defends payments in Angelina Jolie row

James Cowan, CEO of the Halo Trust, has defended the payments. Picture: John Devlin
James Cowan, CEO of the Halo Trust, has defended the payments. Picture: John Devlin
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A LEADING humanitarian charity has defended a six-figure sum paid to its trustees for an internal review amid claims it led to its most high-profile supporter, the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, severing her ties with the organisation.

The Halo Trust, a leading landmine clearance charity made famous by Diana, Princess of Wales, has become embroiled in a row over £122,750 received by two of its trustees.

The trust, which receives millions of pounds each year from governments around the world and enjoys close ties with the monarchy, paid Amanda Pullinger, a former hedge fund executive who chairs its trustees, £26,000 towards the review of its structure, remuneration and management. Simon Conway, an author who acted as an executive trustee during the review, received £96,750, the trust’s latest annual report shows.

It has been claimed Ms Jolie was “extremely uncomfortable” the the arrangements, but the charity’s chief executive said yesterday that the star “remained a supporter” of its work.

James Cowan also defended the payments to the trustees, describing them as “entirely appropriate” and a way of keeping costs down.

The accounts state that, in addition to the payment, Mr Conway, the husband of BBC Scotland journalist Sarah Smith, was provided with accommodation close to the trust’s headquarters over a five month period.

The Charity Commission confirmed it has received a complaint over the payments to Ms Pullinger and Mr Conway and said it was reviewing its decision to take no action at the behest of the complainant.

It is not the first time the Dumfries-based trust, which works in countries including Afghanistan, Angola and Mozambique, has had its payments scrutinised. It faced criticism last year for its policy of contributing towards the school fees for its staff and their families, including its former chief executive, Guy Willoughby, who resigned last summer.

Ms Jolie, well known for her humanitarian work, resigned as a trustee on 23 May last year. Mr Cowan said Ms Jolie’s resignation letter cited her “wish to do other things” and that the actress had joined in a unanimous vote in favour of the governance review. According to the Times newspaper, however, Ms Jolie had raised objections about the payments to Mr Conway and Ms Pullinger and informed trustees they should pay for a governance review themselves instead of using charity funds. It quoted an unnamed source who claimed Ms Jolie was “extremely uncomfortable” with the actions of the trustees.

In a statement, Mr Cowan said the period following Mr Willoughby’s resignation was one of “substantial upheaval and change” which allowed it to “start a new chapter,” including the organisational review.

He said: “We could have turned to an external team to conduct the reviews, but, for the sake of speed and to keep costs down, we looked to our trustees who know the organisation inside out, to get on and make the necessary changes.

“Both Amanda and Simon received payment for this work, which was entirely appropriate, and ensured that the trust continued to operate effectively during these difficult months.”

He added: “The payments were agreed by the board and signed off by the Charity Commission and, despite suggestions in the media, this decision has never been called into question.”

A spokeswoman for the Halo Trust said Ms Pullinger would not be making any comment. Mr Conway and Ms Jolie’s agent did not respond to a request for comment.