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Forest Gate mosque leaders ‘failed’ to properly tell worshippers of sell-off plans

PUBLISHED: 14:29 05 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:53 05 September 2018

Protestors outside the Charity Commission earlier this year. Picture: S. Shah

Protestors outside the Charity Commission earlier this year. Picture: S. Shah

Archant

Leaders of a Forest Gate mosque did not properly tell worshippers they had decided to sell the site and move to Ilford, the Charity Commission found.

Trustees at Imamia Mission “clearly failed” to correctly inform members about the proposed sale, the voluntary sector regulator said in a critical report published Wednesday.

The Commission launched an investigation after worshippers protested outside its headquarters in May, claiming they were not told about the plans.

“Overall, we considered that the way the trustees’ decisions were made were not in accordance with the principles of good decision making,” the report noted, highlighting a “concerning lack of evidence of proper planning”.

Attempts to inform members, such as notices after Friday prayers, were “insufficient”, it added.

According to the report, trustees “failed to produce” any business plan on the cost, financing and impact of the move when visited by the Commission.

Under proposals, the place of worship in Romford Road would relocate four miles away to Newbury Park, Ilford.

Managers argue the current site poses a health and safety risk as it is too small for use.

Acting in a “private capacity”, a trustee took out a loan to buy the new property, the report found. The mosque’s committee then agreed to place a charge on the old premises “in favour of that trustee” until the Forest Gate site was sold and the loan repaid.

Despite allegations the trustee stood to profit from the sale, the Commission ruled there was “no conflict of interest” and that move met the mosque’s rules.

A review of the charity’s constitution confirmed trustees can sell all or any part of its property.

“We looked into this transaction closely and satisfied ourselves that the trustee in question would not benefit personally from this arrangement,” read the report.

“Steps were also taken to register the property at the Land Registry in the names of holding trustees in trust for the charity.”

The watchdog could not substantiate claims made about “unfair elections and restrictions on membership” at the mosque.

“The public rightly expect trustees to consider the needs and interests of the communities they serve when making decisions on behalf of their charities,” said Tracy Howarth, head of regulatory compliance at the Commission.

“Whilst our case findings may not uphold many of the serious allegations made against the trustees, it is clear that the trustees have not always acted in a way that has inspired the trust and confidence of the beneficiaries and the wider community.

“I sincerely hope our intervention helps rebuild a purposeful relationship so that the charity can fulfil its aims into the future.”

The Commission issued formal regulatory advice to the trustees but found no evidence to “invalidate” the sale, noting trustees still “intend to proceed”.

The mosque’s president, Abil Shah, told the Recorder: “We do understand the Charity Commission’s position but we do not agree entirely about their report.”

Asked which sections of the report trustees disputed, he said: “The whole purpose of our movement was to find a better place for our disabled, elderly [visitors], ladies and children, because our existing property is in a very dangerous state and it does not provide all the facilities required like washing facilities, toilets, disabled toilets, etc, etc.”

Mr Shah disputed that the mosque gave worshippers “insufficient” notice of the sale, stating: “This is totally untrue and it is not based on evidence.

“We have been looking for a place for seven, eight years and we have been engaging our members all the time.”

The MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms, and a planning officer at Newham Council had visited the premises to speak to members on the need to relocate, he added.

The mosque, he went on, was “very close to being sold” though he declined to comment further.

Syed ‘Naqi’ Shah, spokesperson for Imamia Mission East London UK, who are protesting the sell-off, said the group is seeking legal advice on the report.

“The battle doesn’t end here,” he said.

“We will not sit and we will try to stop it.”


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