Government funded baby ashes charity close to collapse

A charity which was set up to provide counselling to the families affected by the ‘baby ashes scandal’ is being investigated for a second time by the Scottish charity regulator (OSCR) and faces being dissolved by Companies House.

The Forget Me Not Care and Counselling charity’s stated aim is to help the victims of the 2012 baby ashes scandal – when the ashes of deceased babies were secretly buried rather than being returned to the parents.

To carry out counselling, the charity received £55,000 from the Scottish government as well as money raised by the victims of the 2012 scandal. The group also received further grants from The Big Lottery and a number of private funders.

However, several parents affected by the scandal have criticised Forget Me Not.

They say its founders used the name of baby ashes campaign group, Glasgow Answer for Ashes, to support funding applications without their knowledge and they claim the charity subsequently spent money badly and failed to provide counselling to enough people.

In a series of written complaints sent to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, MSPs and the Scottish Government, individuals critical of the charity accuse the management of poor governance, spending too much on office costs, travel and phones, and failing to thank, or report back to parents who raised money for it.

The charity has published very little detail on its activities. At the time of publication, the charity’s website was no longer functioning, its Facebook page had been removed having not been updated for three months and its founder, Linsay Bonar, who is herself a victim of the baby ashes scandal, had not replied to repeated requests for comment.

In a March 2014 funding application to the Scottish Government, Ms Bonar said that the charity was working with 12 families, but that she estimated that there were about 150 families who could come forward as part of the Baby Ashes National Inquiry.

At that time, emails sent to the Scottish Government said the charity had three offices and two part-time counsellors.

In a Big Lottery application, also submitted in March 2014, the group said it would serve a “network” of 200 families that were affected by the baby ashes scandal and that providing transport via leased cars was essential to helping potential clients feel “comfortable with the set-up.”

A subsequent evaluation return sent to the Big Lottery Fund, sent in July 2015, said the charity had worked with 120 families affected by the scandal. The return claimed that they had received “nothing but praise” from the families they had worked with.

The return also admits they overspent their budget for office costs after they rented office space in Glasgow, Falkirk, Lanarkshire, Aberdeen and Dundee.

In response to complaints, OSCR opened an inquiry into the charity in 2015. It criticised the charity’s working practices, including the potential for conflict of interest as the charity’s trustees were all related.

OSCR also concluded that there were weaknesses in the financial controls adopted by the charity.

After concluding its first inquiry, OSCR made several recommendations for improvements to the charity but allowed it to keep operating.

The past four years could have had a better outcome for parents if they’d had access to support right from the start. Now many are left mistrustful of charities. Cheryl Buchanan, Parent affected by baby ashes scandal

In September 2015, however, the Scottish government joined OSCR in expressing concern when Forget Me Not’s sole qualified counsellor and a regular volunteer resigned. Since then, the charity has received no Scottish government funding.

In November 2016, in response to overdue accounts, Companies House started proceedings to strike Forget Me Not off its register and officially dissolve the company.

In the same month, OSCR wrote to Companies House asking it to suspend its dissolution of Forget Me Not so that OSCR could assess the value of any assets the charity holds.

Cheryl Buchanan, a parent affected by the Baby Ashes scandal was among those who lodged formal complaints about Forget Me Not.

She said: “The failings of this charity have had a widespread impact, the majority of parents were left to fend for themselves, some of them suffering real emotional distress which was impacting on their daily lives.

“Many of us never felt comfortable about the set up of the charity, and as time went on it became more and more obvious that they could not carry out their duties.

“I begged the government for help, asked repeatedly what parents could do to get some professional support, and was told to “go to our GP”.

“The past four years could have had a better outcome for parents if they’d had access to support right from the start. Now many are left mistrustful of charities.”

Lorraine Marshall, whose son’s ashes were scattered without her knowledge, told The Ferret: “I feel I have let my son down by trusting Forget Me Not and its founder Linsay Bonar.

“It feels like we have been mistreated all over again. Parents have been left with no support.”

Bonar is a SNP activist and is friends on Facebook with the SNP’s Minister for Public Health and Sport, Aileen Campbell, Minister for Transport and Islands, Humza Yousef, and backbench MSP Christina Mckelvie.

When asked if Bonar had used contacts in the SNP to help gain grant funding, the SNP did not reply, although documentation obtained from the Scottish Government shows that the funding was approved by Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson, then the Minister for Public Health.

Separately, a spokesperson for the Scottish government said all of its funding for the charity was considered, allocated and assessed in accordance with its standard procedures.

“We are aware that OSCR is currently conducting an inquiry into Forget-Me-Not Care and Counselling, which is on-going. We will consider the findings of the inquiry once it is completed,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for OSCR said that they could not comment on ongoing inquiries.

In contrast to Forget Me Not, which appears to no longer be operational, a charity called Sands Lothian continues to provide counselling for victims of the baby ashes scandal and has been praised by baby ashes scandal victims.

Despite repeated attempts, Linsey Bonar has not replied to our requests for comment.

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