Palace race row accuser Ngozi Fulani's charity draws watchdog's attention after allegations

Ngozi Fulani - Graeme Robertson/Guardian / eyevine
Ngozi Fulani - Graeme Robertson/Guardian / eyevine

The Charity Commission is examining a series of allegations over the running of Sistah Space, the organisation whose founder was at the centre of the Buckingham Palace race row.

In a statement the watchdog said it was “assessing material” posted on social media questioning the charity’s finances and organisation.

The Greater London Assembly’s finance chief has also been asked to ensure that grants to Sistah Space “have been used as intended”.

The charity has come under public scrutiny after its founder, Ngozi Fulani, was repeatedly asked where she was “really” from at a palace event hosted by the Queen Consort. Her “interrogator” Lady Susan Hussey, 83, the late Queen Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting and a godmother to Prince William, was forced to step aside from all royal duties after years of public service.

The backlash against Ms Fulani - including vitriolic abuse on social media - prompted the charity to announce last week it had temporarily ceased working over safety fears for its staff and clients.

Ngozi Fulani - Kin Cheung/PA
Ngozi Fulani - Kin Cheung/PA

A lengthy analysis of Sistah Space’s operations, posted on Twitter by an anonymous user, has led to the charity watchdog beginning a preliminary examination.

The social media posts - more than 200 in total - have been widely circulated in a sign that the Buckingham Palace race row, which was deeply embarrassing to the Royal household, continues to attract huge interest.

In the posts, allegations are made concerning the running of Sistah Space, a domestic violence charity for black women and their families. The charity was formed in 2015, a year after the murder of a black woman and her daughter by an abusive ex-partner amid criticism of police for their "inaction" in response to earlier threats. The charity provides advice and advocacy to women and girls from the African and Afro-Caribbean communities.

The charity’s latest yearly accounts to March 31 2021 show it received a little over £357,000 in grants, project funding and donations, an increase from £50,000 in 2018-19.

Funding has come from a variety of sources including the Greater London Assembly (GLA), the Department for Culture, Media, Digital and Sport, and Comic Relief, which gave Sistah Space £60,000 to improve its website and online support.  A Charity Commission spokesman said: “We are assessing material posted on social media about the charity Sistah Space to determine whether it raises matters that fall within the Charity Commission’s remit.”

The watchdog stressed it had not opened any regulatory compliance case or statutory inquiry and declined to comment further.

GLA officer asked to investigate charity's grants

The chairman of the Greater London Assembly’s audit panel has also requested that finance chiefs reexamine grants given to the charity in 2019 and 2020.

Neil Garratt, a Conservative assembly member, said: "The allegations made about Sistah Space's use of GLA grants remain unproven at this stage; however it is right that credible concerns be investigated to ensure public money is spent properly.

“I have asked the chief finance officer to look into this issue and report back as soon as possible."

The first GLA  grant was awarded in 2019, giving Sistah Space £12,000 to run a poll.

Sistah Space, based in Hackney in east London, admits in its most recent accounts it has had “issues” in managing its growth since it was formally registered as a charity in 2018. Its most recent accounts were posted 69 days late.

In its annual report, the charity said: “The sudden increase meant we had to develop a new way of working to ensure we were current with financial regulations and reporting… This financial year 2021 has proved to be our most challenging but equally our most successful year.”

The charity said its accounts officer was “off for a very long time” with Covid and “it was difficult trying to find a replacement”. The replacement of the finance officer, said the charity, “caused a massive disruption in the organisation’s ability to record accounts in a timely manner”.

In its accounts, the charity said: “We have now engaged an independent accounting firm and are confident that any issues are a thing of the past.”

The Twitter post also highlighted a dispute between Sistah Space and Hackney Council, in which the local authority had tried to evict the charity from its temporary headquarters in a building owned by the local authority.

In October 2020, the council and Sistah Space reached a mediated agreement in which the local authority agreed  to cover Sistah Space’s “removal costs” and in return the charity agreed to vacate the premises in central Hackney by January 20221. The charity has since found a new headquarters.

A spokesman for the charity said: "Sistah Space has not been approached by the Charity Commission. What we do know is they are assessing information posted on social media, part of their normal procedure, but haven’t opened an official investigation, however should they contact us we will of course cooperate fully."