War in Gaza is blamed for crime increase at charities

James Beal - Social Affairs Editor

Charities have reported a 10 per cent increase in suspected criminal activity, partly fuelled by controversial views concerning the war in Gaza.

New figures, revealed in a freedom of information request, showed that 34 per cent of Serious Incident Reports (SIRs) submitted to the Charity Commission from March 2023 to April 2024 were about known or suspected criminal activity. It represented a 10 per cent increase on the year before.

The data showed that at least 2,916 SIRs were submitted to the Charity Commission, of which 998 reported known or suspected criminal activity.

As a civil regulator the commission does not investigate or prosecute criminal wrongdoings but refers cases to the police.

In April it was reported that it had made more than 30 referrals to the police regarding potential criminal offences at charities since the war in Gaza began. Some charities subsequently removed social media or website content, suspended employees and contractors and removed their organisation as signatories of open letters.

When reporting criminal behaviour, charities must clarify the nature of the crime, such as safeguarding incidents, financial crime, suspicious donations, cybercrime or links to terrorism.

Of those charities that reported a crime 51 per cent reported one connected to safeguarding, with a 16.7 per cent increase in the number of reports from the previous reporting year. There were 510 suspected safeguarding crimes reported to the Charity Commission in 2023-24 compared with 437 in 2022-23.

After investigations into Oxfam in 2018, when The Times exposed the behaviour of charity workers in Haiti, concerns were raised that charities were under-reporting serious incidents.

In response the Charity Commission introduced simpler online reporting tools as well as trustee guidance on responding to serious incidents.

In its last annual report, however, the commission stated that there had been “a decrease in the reporting of new SIRs for the third year in a row”. Last year it also confirmed that there had been an under-reporting of cybercrime incidents with only 34 per cent of affected charities reporting breaches.

The increase in SIRs in relation to suspected criminal activity could be tied to the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

The regulator made 30 referrals to the police in cases where it considered that a criminal offence may have been committed in relation to the conflict.

Recent cases have involved the Charity Commission opening statutory inquiries into Al-Tawheed Charitable Trust over an event held at its premises.

The Al-Manar Centre Trust was also reported over serious concerns about a video post.

Orlando Fraser, who chairs the commission, previously said that the regulator was assessing a “significant number of serious concerns” regarding some charities’ activities in relation to the war. He added that the regulator was aware of several “allegations of antisemitic or hate speech” linked to charities in England and Wales.

Jack Myers, director of Alder, a crisis communications firm, which uncovered the rise, said: “Not only do these figures show just how exposed charities are, but that the risks themselves are evolving fast. Managing the risk of criminal activity comes down to good governance: do trustees know enough about the risks and do they have a plan to mitigate against them? There is only so much the commission can do to persuade boards to take the initiative.”