Cancer charity founder gave herself £31,000 in 'significant breach of trust'

Wendy Watson MBE was honoured in 1996
Wendy Watson MBE was honoured in 1996

The founder of the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline has resigned after it was revealed that she paid herself £31,000.

Wendy Watson MBE, who launched the organisation in 1996, and was honoured in 2012, resigned as a trustee after breaching charity law.

The Charity Commission, which regulates registered charities in England and Wales, uncovered the payment made over the 2014-15 financial year.

Lawyers for Watson and the charity described the payments as “an error”, after the commission noted “significant breaches of trust”.

Watson founded the charity after she became the first woman in the UK to have a pre-emptive mastectomy.

By 2012, it was raising almost £1m per year at shops in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Humberside and London (Edgware and Kentish Town).

In the past, the charity has produced calendars and hosted galas to raise money, and accepts donations.

Trustees cannot be paid without permission from the Charity Commission, which issued an official warning under new powers granted by the government.

According to the BBC, the charity’s accounts also show that as little as 2.8% of annual donations have been spent on “charitable activities”, such as running the helpline, since 2012.

The rest of the money was spent running the shops and paying staff, but the average spend for a charity is currently 83%.

Michelle Russell, Charity Commission’s director of investigations, said: “As a trustee, as it says on the tin, you are trusted with other people’s money as a volunteer to look after it,” she said.

“When we found out there were some unauthorised payments to a trustee, we made it clear that it wasn’t allowed to continue.

“But when we went back for the second inspection we found they’d continued to make payments in breach of charity law.”

A statement from Mrs Watson’s lawyers said she had been paid in “error” for “a period while she was a trustee”.

It added: “Wendy Watson has worked full-time for the charity from August 2012 until now.

“She was paid for her work for one year [September 2014-5]. During that period, she was also a trustee.

“Neither Ms Watson nor the charity were aware that this was inappropriate until they were informed by the Charity Commission, at which point Ms Watson immediately resigned as a trustee and continued to work without payment.

“Ms Watson was also paid for three months’ work at the end of 2016. Other than these periods, she has worked full time on a voluntary basis.”

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