Tribunal will clear us say five expelled members

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Five crew members expelled from the Lough Neagh Rescue by the Charity Commission amid a dispute which has split the organisation say they are confident a tribunal will clear them of wrongdoing.

In the interim findings of an initial inquiry, the commission said the actions of the group were posing “a serious risk to the charity, its reputation and beneficiaries”.

The five crew members who have been told to step aside deny any wrongdoing, and intend appealing the decision at a tribunal.

One of the ousted members, Gregory Burke, said, “I am confident they (the tribunal) will find the commission’s allegations have absolutely no grounds in fact.

“We approached the Charity Commission in the first place for their help. The charity has spent quite a bit of money over the years training us up to a certain standard, and we would like to get back to what we do best - serving the community.

“If the charity tribunal finds that there is something in the commission’s allegations, I will happily walk away.”

The interim findings of the initial inquiry, which was seen by the BBC, revealed that at the height of the dispute, locks were changed at one of the lifeboat stations and charity funds were frozen in a bank account for about a year.

The group of five crew members who have been removed initially went to the Charity Commission and made a series of allegations about how the charity was being run.

However, when the allegations the group made were considered to be unfounded by the commission, it in turn investigated them.

The watchdog said, “Information has also been forthcoming from other sources which contradicts and calls into question the motivation of some of those who raised the initial concerns, and they now appear to be obstructing and frustrating the commission’s investigation.”

It continued, “There is without doubt evidence of misconduct on the part of individuals whose motivation appears to be have been to divert assets and funding to other bodies, to obstruct the efficiency ... and adversely affect the reputation of Lough Neagh Rescue Ltd, and indeed to close the charity completely.”

A former chairman of the charity, Trevor McKee, has aso been removed as a trustee by the commission.

It is understood this is the first time this has happened in Northern Ireland. Mr McKee denies any wrongdoing, and is appealing against his removal.

“We came to the commission 18 months ago with concerns we had about the charity - we asked for help,” he said.

“They promised a fair investigation but unfortunately they have not delivered on that. We are standing up for the rights of volunteers who have given collectively over 120 years service to our own community.”

Mr McKee said the commission verdict is “unjust”.