Patrick Sookhdeo: The untold story of the battle for control of Barnabas

Patrick Sookhdeo outside Swindon Crown Court earlier this year.SWNS

Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of a charity that works with persecuted Christians around the world. He is frequently quoted in mainstream media, the organisation is cited approvingly by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and a British peer, Lord Weidenfeld, and his expertise on Islam has been called on by the Ministry of Defence.

He's also a sex offender who in February was convicted of sexually assaulting a female member of his staff by groping her and of intimidating witnesses.

He was given a three-month community order and a three-month curfew. He also had to pay prosecution costs of £3,500 and a victim surcharge of £60.

Following a critical article on this website, a series of allegations has emerged as people who say they have been damaged by Sookhdeo's behaviour have come forward with their stories.

Among the stories to have emerged is the extraordinary account of a battle in 2013 with the trustees of one of the charities of which Sookhdeo was a director.

The row began towards the end of 2012, when the trustees of Barnabas Fund began to raise concerns about the need for tighter controls on how money was spent. They wanted more transparency about the approval of large expenditures and greater involvement by the entire board. Many of them felt they did not know what money was being spent on and that they had a duty to find out.

Some trustees were also concerned about Sookhdeo's treatment of a particular member of staff who had been made redundant. When one of the trustees went to Sookhdeo's office to discuss the issue he was accused of racism and of patronising him, and Sookhdeo threatened to take away his pass to the building.

A subsequent meeting between the employee, Sookhdeo, a senior Barnabas member of staff and another trustee ended acrimoniously with Sookhdeo walking out. After the employee made a statement to the trustees about how Sookhdeo had treated her, at least seven other staff came forward with complaints about Sookhdeo's management style.

A request from the trustees for a meeting was resisted by Sookhdeo and by Caroline Kerslake, his long-time collaborator and Barnabas Fund's International Director of Projects.

On January 8, 2013, his solicitors wrote a letter to the chair of trustees, Robert de Berry, who Sookhdeo accused of slandering him and wanting to replace him as head of Barnabas Fund. He then threatened further action against the rest of the trustees and called for them all to resign.

The board attempted to suspend him, but backed by senior members of staff, Sookhdeo contested its authority to do so and declined to comply. In a sign of Sookhdeo's ability to polarise loyalities, a member of staff asked to send out an email to staff from trustees outlining the situation refused to do so.

An extraordinary battle followed between Sookhdeo and his supporters – his wife Rosemary, Kerslake and Albrecht Hauser – and the other trustees, which attempts to secure mediation failed to resolve.

Documents seen by Christian Today show:

1. A majority of the trustees identified what they believed were serious weaknesses in Barnabas Fund's financial controls, which on one occasion saw Kerslake authorise expenditure of around £585,000 on a single project without the agreement of the trustees, though she maintained that she had the authority to do so.

2. They wanted a fund for "ultra-sensitive grants" from which Sookhdeo could dispense money at his own discretion to be brought under control, with a ceiling on grants that could be made without board approval – a move fiercely resisted by Kerslake and Sookhdeo.

3. They wanted to consider allegations from ex-employees of bullying, threats, intimidation and harassment at Sookhdeo's hands.

4. They wanted to consider suggestions that Sookhdeo had undermined the independence of the UK, Australian and US Barnabas by appointing family or immediate staff members.

5. The trustees wanted clarity and understanding about the relationship between three interlinked charities: Barnabas Fund itself, a separate charity named The Barnabas Fund (TBF), Servants Fellowship International (SFI). Transfers had been made between these bodies and the trustees said that they had no idea how much money was being moved and why, or even what assets Barnabas Fund itself held and what belonged to the other charities.

The trustees intended to discuss these concerns with Sookhdeo at a meeting on February 7. However, Christian Today has been told he launched into a diatribe described as "vindictive" against them before walking out.

The relationship with SFI was to prove particularly significant. SFI owns the buildings at Barnabas Fund's Pewsey headquarters, which Barnabas leased. However, on January 28, 2013 a new lease was signed. Kerslake and Rosemary Sookhdeo signed it in their capacity as trustees of SFI, and they also signed it in their capacity as trustees of Barnabas Fund. The majority of the Barnabas Fund trustees knew nothing about the new lease.

A month later Kerslake, for SFI, served Barnabas Fund with a Notice To Quit (NTQ) the buildings, potentially putting the whole charity at risk. The NTQ remained a threat and according to Barnabas Fund documents seen by Christian Today was used as a bargaining tool by Sookhdeo and Kerslake.

During this period the temperature continued to rise, taking its toll on some trustees' health and peace of mind. At least one trustee resigned under the pressure, having secured an agreement from Sookhdeo's lawyers that he would be indemnified from any legal action.

Sookhdeo's own communications were becoming increasingly intemperate. In May 2013 he wrote accusing the trustees of letting down the persecuted Church and said it was their "duty" to cooperate with him. He asked whether British Intelligence had been deployed against him and made various allegations of conspiracy.

The trustees, working with senior management – some of whom were Sookhdeo loyalists – were coming to the conclusion that while Sookhdeo's brand was hugely important to the charity, it was no longer possible for him to continue as a director or as International Director. After more exchanges of letters and a fruitless attempt at mediation, on June 25, 2013, the Sookhdeos, Kerslake and Hauser were removed as Barnabas Fund members and trustees.

Among the reasons set out beforehand in a Notice of Removal were their "continuing lack of good faith toward Barnabas Fund" and the use of the SFI Notice to Quit "cynically and hypocritically" against the Fund.

However, Sookhdeo had taken steps to combat their move. He had asked the Charity Commission to step in and authorise "charity proceedings" which would allow him to take the trustees to court. This was refused and Sookhdeo wanted to appeal. So he applied to the High Court seeking an injunction restraining the majority trustees from removing him as a trustee or as a director of the charity pending the appeal – and seeking costs against any of them who opposed the application.

The dispute was by now costing the charity large amounts of money – to the outrage of Sookhdeo, who believed that the trustees should have to pay for their own defence against him.

So to bring the affair, as they thought, to a conclusion, they agreed to a compromise involving a legal mechanism known as a 'Tomlin Order'. At the hearing on July 15, Sookhdeo withdrew his action against the eight trustees, and all the trustees resigned. An Interim Board was appointed, chaired by Rt Rev Martyn Minns, who had been brought in earlier in a largely fruitless mediatory role. To provide a balance between the two parties, it included Sookhdeo loyalist Albrecht Hauser and one of the original trustees, Darryl Brock. The other trustees – including, importantly, either of the Sookhdeos or Caroline Kerslake – agreed not to serve again for a period of three years.

The trustees' legal defence cost Barnabas Fund £111,772.

However, Sookhdeo was far from finished.

His next move was against the Interim Board. Though the Tomlin Order had said that neither Rosemary Sookhdeo nor Caroline Kerslake should serve again until three years had elapsed, both were reappointed to Barnabas Fund's board on September 9, 2014.

According to the Trustees' Report for the year ended August 31, 2014, the "Barnabas Family" – its UK and international operations – agreed to "formalise and cement their already strong relationships". As part of this, the report says, the grant-making, communication and strategic direction of the international operations of Barnabas Fundwould be devolved to a separate charity, Barnabas Aid International (BAI). These activities, of course, represent the most significant of Barnabas' activities.

The trustees of BAI include Patrick Sookhdeo, Rosemary Sookhdeo, Caroline Kerslake and Albrecht Hauser.

Barnabas Fund's majority trustees' attempt to fulfil their role in governance had caused some of them serious mental trauma and cost the charity a large amount of money. However, the end result was that they had been outmaneuvred. Sookhdeo and those who supported him through thick and thin during the 2012-13 controversy were now in key positions in the new charity.

Furthermore, Barnabas Fund – now with new trustees loyal to Sookhdeo – is now suing Wellers, the solicitors that acted for the majority trustees, for negligence. Barnabas Fund has already expended several thousand pounds on the case and if it proceeds further, these costs will rise considerably.

Patrick Sookhdeo was contacted for this article but declined to comment.

Tomorrow: Sookhdeo's sexual assault conviction

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