Thank you to all those who attended the meeting at Croydon Conference Centre on 28 November 2017 and for the support received in respect of the various investigations which are on-going. Following that meeting, a number of individuals have been in touch with the Interim Manager expressing further views and constructive thoughts on how matters could proceed. All these matters will be taken into account in due course.
The main points mentioned at the meeting were:
- There had been a serious lack of cooperation and, indeed, obstruction to the Interim Manager's appointment and investigations by various individuals including some employees. An example of this was the total lack of cooperation in providing copies of credit card statements in respect of which the Interim Manager was expected to authorise payment from March 2016.
- There had been various investigations put in place including expenditure on the credit cards, overseas travel, overseas gifts and donations. These investigations are, in part, continuing.
- HMRC had carried out two major investigations concerning an investment with Richard Rufus and also the various amounts charged to credit cards and, in particular, whether or not that expenditure should have been classed as charitable or personal by the pastors. As a result of those investigations, the charity has a liability to HMRC of some £220,000 in respect of the Richard Rufus investment and related matters and approximately £150,000 in respect of the national insurance liability arising out of the credit card usage. These are separate and in addition to, personal liabilities of the pastors for tax, which should have been paid on benefits in kind if they had been declared. The charity has refused to meet the pastors' personal tax liability. There may be penalty and interest charges to be paid. These are under discussion with HMRC.
- The Interim Manager covered numerous issues arising out of the finances and lack of governance and control by the trustees including a failure to deal properly with pension arrangements for staff, PAYE registration and payment, issues of mobile phones and various other matters, for instance, the use of cleaners and gardeners at Rose Lawn (the residence of Mr and Mrs Phelps).
- The lease of the property previously occupied by the Church for Sunday Services, namely West Croydon Baptist Church, had come to an end and the Interim Manager had not been notified of issues that had arisen surrounding that. The Pastor of West Croydon Baptist Church had been in touch with the Interim Manager and had agreed to provide a statement as to the precise events that had taken place. This has now been provided and raised a number of serious concerns. This resulted in action being taken against an individual who had tried to have the lease transferred to a new church.
- The Sunday Services have come to an end because of the issues with West Croydon Baptist Church. It also became clear, however, following discussions with various individuals within the Church that it was not appropriate to continue with those Services until the investigations had been concluded. This applied also to individual groups such as the Bible Study Group. It is intended, if the congregation desire, for Services to get back to normal sooner rather than later.
- Unfortunately, the Interim Manager and a member of his staff had received and been subject to considerable harassment (some continuing), intimidation and threats in the form of voicemail messages, emails and texts, etc. Many of these were purported to be anonymous but had been tracked by the Interim Manager together with help from the police and individuals had been spoken to. It is understood that there may have been at least one arrest. It is all highly unfortunate and unnecessary. Further action will follow by the Interim Manager in due course against certain individuals.
- The trustees of Rhema Church had been suspended on the appointment of the Interim Manager and will in due course be replaced with new trustees. A number of individuals had come forward, mostly from within the Church although one from outside the Church. At the moment, this was not being pursued further due to other issues, which needed to be resolved. At the appropriate time, however, new trustees and a procedure for appointing those trustees will be put in place. The Interim manager appreciated the views expressed at the meeting as to the due diligence and vetting of those individuals and how that process should proceed. This will all be taken into account.
- The meeting concluded with a wide ranging discussion concerning the future for Rhema Church. Various views were expressed, which the Interim Manager has taken on board and will agree, together with the Charity Commission, an appropriate way forward, hopefully early in the New Year. The Interim Manager understands that following the meeting a rumour was circulating that one or more members or a group of members had taken steps with the Interim Manager/Charity Commission to take over Rhema Church. Again this is further false information and untrue.
- It was made clear by those present that groups claiming to be the Elders of Rhema Church and/or the Donors of Rhema Church do not represent the vast majority of members and those individuals who claim to be part of those groups have failed to identify themselves. It appears that these groups consist of a small number of individuals who clearly do not represent the Rhema Church congregation.
- The Interim manager outlined the position with regard to the staff of Rhema Church and explained who some of the staff employed by Rhema Church were as it seems that the majority of the congregation were unaware. The position concerning Jonathan Morris was that he had been dismissed in February this year. He had appealed and that was dismissed and he was now pursuing an Employment Tribunal claim which was being resisted. Sandy Phelps had resigned with effect from 26 May 2017 and despite repeated requests for reinstatement the Interim Manager refused to do so. Martin Phelps had been dismissed on the day of the meeting for gross misconduct. He has since lodged an appeal and the outcome of that is awaited. Liz Travis is no longer employed by Rhema Church.
- Further notices will be posted in due course.