Watchdogs have launched a dramatic investigation into Carrie Symonds’ charity.
The Charity Commission is conducting a legal investigation – the most serious type of investigation – into spending at the Aspinall Foundation following revelations in the Daily Mail.
It investigates allegations of financial mismanagement at the charity, which hired Miss Symonds earlier this year.
Boris Johnson’s fiancé took on the position of director of communications to provide the couple with a double income.
Working from the flat she shares with the Prime Minister and their son Wilfred, the former Tory spin doctor was labeled ‘a huge asset’ when she joined the foundation.
Her role, which reportedly came with an “ medium to high five-digit ” salary, was expected to focus on conservation programs.
But yesterday, Miss Symonds’s office was inundated with a public relations crisis when the committee, the industry’s official regulator, announced its investigation into the charity and its sister organization, the Howletts Wild Animal Trust.
The charity’s chairman is socialite Damian Aspinall, and its trustees include Ben Goldsmith, the Tory donor, and his half-brother Robin Birley, whose father Mark founded Annabel’s Mayfair nightclub.
The alleged mismanagement took place before the arrival of Miss Symonds.
The Charity Commission is conducting a legal investigation – the most serious type of investigation – into spending at the Aspinall Foundation following revelations in the Daily Mail. Pictured: Miss Symonds at the zoo
The Mail has raised concerns about the Aspinall Foundation’s use of charitable funds to:
- Help Mr Aspinall live in a stack of 30 rooms in rural Kent for just £ 2,500 a month;
- Funnel hundreds of thousands of pounds to his family;
- Pay £ 62,000 to his wife Victoria for ‘interior design services’;
- Have Mr. Aspinall borrow heavily from charity funds, leaving him in debt of £ 113,000.
The Howletts Wild Animal Trust, which runs two parks in Kent, also gave Mr Aspinall’s stepmother a pension of £ 30,000 a year.
Howletts Wild Animal Park was founded in 1957 as a private zoo near Canterbury by the eccentric naturalist and gambling partner of Lord Lucan, John Aspinall, Damian’s father.
A second zoo was established in Port Lympne near Folkestone.
Under John Aspinall, the zoos were known for their unorthodox style – including close personal relationships between staff and animals.
A number of caretakers were killed by the animals they kept.
Boris Johnson’s fiancé took on the post of communications director to provide the couple (pictured in October 2019) with a double income
But the zoos have been lauded for their conservation work, including introducing captive-bred endangered wildlife into the wild.
Yesterday, the Charity Commission announced two legal inquiries to the Aspinall Foundation and Howletts Wild Animal Trust, in both cases “due to serious concerns about the charity’s governance and financial management.”
A spokesperson added, “It is our most serious type of investigation.”
It said it would investigate whether the trustees, who are required to investigate financial matters, have “fulfilled and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities under the charity law.”
The commission said the trustees “cooperated fully” with the probes, which started out as minor “compliance cases,” but had been drastically upgraded to legal investigations yesterday.
This means that the committee has extensive powers to seize files and question potential witnesses.
Its role is to protect charities and protect money donated by the public.
In the worst case, it could disqualify the supervisory board and impose an independent management team to take over.
The charity downplayed yesterday’s possible fallout by suggesting that it would use the committee’s recommendations to guide the board.
While the crisis engulfed the foundation, the communications director was ‘out of the office’.
Miss Symonds went on maternity leave last year with the birth of Wilfred on April 29. Messages to the PR chief, whose return to work was announced in January and who issued press statements from Aspinall in February, were directed to a junior associate.
The charity’s chairman is socialite Damian Aspinall (pictured with Victoria Fisher in 2016) and administrators include Ben Goldsmith, the Tory donor, and his half-brother Robin Birley, whose father Mark Mayfair founded Annabel’s nightclub.
Two years ago, Mr. Johnson visited Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was introduced to cheetahs Saba and Nairo.
Former administrators of the charity include Ben Goldsmith’s brother Lord (Zac) Goldsmith, a close friend of Miss Symonds, who has reportedly been asked to help fund the recent Downing Street decoration.
The committee said its investigations began in December 2019, in the case of Howletts, and in July 2020, for the Aspinall Foundation.
The Mail understands that a draft press release has been prepared making it clear that the songs are “older” of Miss Symonds, but that all mention of her has been omitted from the final version released yesterday.
The spokesman declined to comment on the matter, saying “our concerns predate her appointment.”
The committee supervises 168,000 charities. Last year, only 67 legal inquiries were carried out.
There was no comment from Mr Goldsmith or Mr Birley.
The Aspinall Foundation and Howletts Wild Animal Trust issued similar statements saying that they “remain committed to ethical and legal duties as a charity.”
They added, “Our trustees will continue to work openly and transparently with the Charity Commission to ensure best practice governance and compliance.”