A pioneering church that has been hailed by politicians as a beacon of hope for ex-gang members has created the conditions for fraudsters to flourish within its ranks and is failing to act on pastors financially exploiting the young people it claims to help, we can reveal.
Ex-congregation members have spoken out to reveal shocking cases at the church, SPAC Nation, of pastors targeting young black people from impoverished areas and “broken homes” and isolating them from their families – before exploiting them for money.
A HuffPost UK investigation has found evidence that some pastors at the church - whose leader was pictured in the second row for Boris Johnson’s speech at this year’s Conservative Party conference - have pressured the young people they supposedly help into taking out substantial loans of up to £5,000.
Once these loans arrive in their bank accounts, the congregation member is asked to transfer the money to the SPAC Nation pastor, sometimes on the basis that the clergymen will set them up as “crypto-traders”.
While young people are left in debt, SPAC Nation’s pastors put on an extravagant show of wealth – flashing rolls of £50 notes, buying Rolex watches, driving Lamborghinis and other sports cars, buying Louboutin shoes and hosting cash giveaways to tempt more youngsters in.
The church claims this display of opulence is necessary to connect with the ex-gang members at risk of knife crime it is trying to reach.
In one case, we found a pastor had taken out an online loan in a congregation member’s name without her consent or knowledge, prompting a fraud complaint to the loan company.
The culture of “seed” giving, whereby money is donated to the church, has also come under heavy criticism. HuffPost UK has been told that those attending SPAC Nation are welcomed into a church that in the words of its lead pastor “will lift them out of poverty”.
But in fact HuffPost UK found the church is leaving some of its members with substantial debts and damaged credit ratings as a result of donating thousands of pounds they cannot afford to SPAC Nation pastors, with a culture of impunity and little recourse from church leaders.
“I thought that SPAC Nation could be the place where I start to heal.
When HuffPost UK put the accusations of financial impropriety to SPAC Nation, the church distanced itself from the actions of its pastors, saying “a community with hundreds of pastors cannot monitor what each pastor or leader does”.
Daniel Ogoloma, a spokesman for SPAC Nation, said: “When anything is reported, we have taken it up to find out the truth behind it and I can authoritatively say there has not been a single report about the things that you have listed.”
The individual pastors denied the allegations against them.
But professionals who work with young people have told HuffPost UK that the church was apparently failing in its safeguarding duties to its young congregation, which has surged in numbers in the last two years and is made up of 55% ex-gang members, according to its own publicity.
HuffPost UK has also found safeguarding leads from London councils and police held a meeting about safeguarding concerns at the church earlier this year and the Charity Commission has an ongoing regulatory compliance case about governance issues at the church.
At the same time as SPAC Nation has apparently failed to act on the conditions that have allowed pastors to carry out alleged fraud within its ranks, the church has won praise from government, the Mayor of London’s office, and featured in a major BBC documentary for its self-proclaimed work to tackle gang and knife crime.
Yesterday Pastor Tobi Adegboyega was invited to No 10 Downing Street for a meeting with Special Advisers and Cabinet Ministers.— SPAC Nation (@SPACnation) May 10, 2018
We are pleased to see the voice of our young people being heard!#SPACNation #MAJOR pic.twitter.com/xH8W0xs0fd
HuffPost UK found SPAC Nation’s leader was at the Conservative Party Conference this year seated behind cabinet ministers, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel and Chancellor Sajid Javid, for the prime minister’s speech.
Tobi Adegboyega said on social media he was at the conference on the invitation of Number 10, and he has also met with cabinet ministers at Downing Street.
These meetings with politicians right at the top of government have prompted questions about why more scrutiny has not been placed on the operations of the church, when allegations about its pastors’ alleged financial improprieties are easily found on social media.
I was a guest of Number 10 at the Conservative Manchester Conference. It was a great speech. I especially liked the detailed plan for young people! pic.twitter.com/EehpFTveBr— Tobi Adegboyega (@TobiAdegboyega_) October 2, 2019
SPAC Nation has also had extensive media coverage and uses this to publicise its work. Adegboyega says on the church’s website, referring to a three-part BBC documentary about SPAC Nation’s work: “According to the BBC nothing like this has ever been seen before.”
The evidence from congregation members that they are pressurised into taking out loans and making “seed donations” has created reasonable grounds for authorities to investigate whether people were coerced into giving by SPAC Nation pastors, it has been claimed.
HuffPost UK will hand a summary of its evidence to the Charity Commission for the ongoing regulatory compliance case in relation to the charity that runs SPAC Nation, Salvation Proclaimers Ministries Limited.
The Loan Scandal: How Pastors Are Pressuring Young People Into Debt
In a long-running investigation into the church’s activities, HuffPost UK found a community that was frightened to speak out, with some saying “they could come to harm” if they went public.
But some brave ex-SPAC Nation members have told their stories in the hope that action can finally be taken to investigate the church’s operations and governance.
The cases of two young women reveal the apparently systemic way in which SPAC Nation pastors allegedly encourage and pressurise congregation members into taking out loans.
Toye-Mary Sofidiya, who lives in east London, was at a vulnerable time in her life when she began attending SPAC Nation in January 2018, at the age of 28.
The university student had experienced personal difficulties that left her feeling depressed and isolated. A committed Christian, after failing to garner the support she needed from members of her former church during a particularly difficult time, she left in search of a new spiritual home.
“I thought that SPAC Nation could be the place where I start to heal. It was new, it was refreshing,” she told HuffPost UK. But soon she experienced exploitation by a SPAC Nation pastor first hand.
Within several weeks of joining the church, Toye met a pastor called George Jumbo at a fellowship service, and he befriended her when she was at her most vulnerable.
Over a period of months in 2018 the pair became increasingly friendly and chatted regularly on WhatsApp, often late into the night.
The WhatsApp chats, seen by HuffPost UK, show Jumbo gradually pressurising the 28-year-old student over a period of months with attempts to convince Toye to “make more money”.
On one occasion he sent her a video of him showing off wads of cash amounting to £5,000 which he boasted as being fruits of his “successful” cryptocurrency trading business.
By that time, Toye had confided in the 23-year-old pastor that she had been experiencing financial difficulties. She had been in and out of jobs, balancing music gigs that weren’t paying a lot, and she was living right at the end of her overdraft.
Eventually Jumbo convinced Toye that he could get her involved in “trading” but said she would need capital to invest. She knew nothing about the industry, or how to get started, and so relied on him for guidance – something she later described as a “mistake”.
To Toye, this story about trading cryptocurrency seemed believable because she had heard other members of SPAC Nation claimed to earn high incomes in this way, and discussed it openly in the church.
Jumbo explained that she would need to apply for loans in order to raise capital to start her own trading business. From that point onwards, the clergyman began coaxing her to make numerous loan applications.
Together, the pair applied for loans.
“I feel like they took advantage of me. I feel like I was deceived, lied to because they knew I trusted them.”
She was so unsuspecting of Jumbo that she entrusted him with all her personal information. On one occasion, she even gave him permission to apply for a loan on her behalf while she was busy with lectures. Toye says she had no idea that he would abuse this information.
None of these loan applications were successful and Toye abandoned the idea. But in the process Jumbo had gained access to her date of birth, address, bank account and sort code.
Then in January this year, Jumbo called Toye and asked if she would “do him a favour” and accept a bank transfer into her account from his company. She says he was vague about the company name when she questioned him, but she agreed.
Jumbo said the amount transferred would be £5,000, before later advising her to expect £500 instead. When £550 was credited to her account, Jumbo asked Toye to transfer the money to another member of SPAC Nation and she did this.
But a few days later Toye was left reeling when she received two letters through the post from Amigo Loans company.
The letters stated she had electronically signed up online as a guarantor for two separate £5,000 loans. She knew absolutely nothing about this.
When Toye angrily confronted Jumbo, he unintentionally admitted that the £550 transferred into her account was also in fact a loan from Onstride.
In a voice note, heard by HuffPost UK, he apologised and tried to reassure Toye that he would cooperate with her on the loan repayments. Furious, she fired back on WhatsApp: “Excuse me, sorry, so the £550 was from another loan company? It wasn’t an actual transfer?”
Within a matter of weeks the SPAC Nation pastor had secured lending against her name to the value of £10,550 without her knowledge or consent. She was devastated.
“I feel like I was targeted,” she said. “I feel like they took advantage of me. I feel like I was deceived, lied to because they knew I trusted them.”
She contacted both loans companies in writing to report the alleged frauds. HuffPost UK has seen copies of this paperwork.
Toye also wrote to SPAC Nation. In that email she said: “A loan was taken out in my name. This is clearly an indication of fraud, identity theft and a breach of the GDPR legislation and the Data Protection Act.”
A meeting was held by SPAC Nation senior leaders about her case. Toye says following this she was given £550 cash to pay off the loan in her name and that George Jumbo admitted his involvement and was led to apologise to her.
But no further action was taken against the pastor by SPAC Nation, as far as HuffPost UK has been able to establish. This apparently left him free to continue having access to the church’s congregation in his pastoral role.
Jumbo said, when contacted by HuffPost UK: “From the allegations, the individual and myself had a previous agreement solely to do with business relation [sic] and nothing to do with church. Everything was communicated and since then been cleared up.”
Toye left the church immediately after this.
But the 29-year-old believes SPAC Nation leaders missed a vital opportunity to intervene in her case and confront Jumbo before he had reached the point of making her a guarantor on loans of £10,000 – which continues to affect her credit score.
Weeks before this happened she had spoken to a senior female pastor within the church, Nikky Odutayo, who she trusted and is known as the “mother hen” pastor by women in the church.
“Not only did she tell me to decline the offer of trading with them, or taking out any loans with them, but she then offered that I should come and take out a loan with her instead,” Toye said. “She said ‘Don’t do it with George. If anybody, just come and do it with me’.”
“If you have a repentant heart this would not continue, it would stop,” Toye said. “It wouldn’t have got as far as me.”
Odutayo told HuffPost UK: “I am not able to respond to these allegations as I don’t believe them to be credible.”
While Toye no longer has any contact with SPAC Nation, the identity fraud she experienced has had a lasting impact on her life and damaged her credit score. Despite her strong Christian faith she has not joined another church since.
“To say that this is an isolated incident would be ignorant, they are a unit,” she said. “This is not an isolated incident.”
Not An Isolated Case
The story of a second young woman who spoke to HuffPost UK appears to support Toye’s assertion that what happened to her was not a lone case.
The 21-year-old from north London, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, was contacted by another SPAC Nation pastor, Lennox Attoh – who is chair of Brent Young Labour Group, the local youth branch of the Labour Party in the north London borough.
Attoh asked the university student whether she could “do him a favour” and take out a loan for £500, then transfer the money to him. Then another pastor, whose name she did not know, contacted her saying he “needed help with some money” and again mentioned a loan.
The student began a loan application but got cold feet when she realised a guarantor was necessary for the loan to be agreed and said she did not want to proceed.
“I told the pastor, ‘I don’t have anyone to be a guarantor because my family we are just about surviving, to pay bills and get food and everything, so I can’t ask anyone in my family to be the guarantor’. And they said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll sort that out’.”
Later she discovered that a £5,000 loan had been taken out in her name without her knowledge. The student understands one of the SPAC Nation’s pastors did this.
In echoes of Toye’s case, Attoh asked the student to accept a transfer of £550 from his account.
In a WhatsApp message, seen by HuffPost UK, he said: “I need your long card number, expiry date and 3 digit at the back. £550 will be sent to you then you transfer it to me.”
When HuffPost UK contacted Attoh, he said: “My response to the above allegations are that they are false. I have not forced any member of the church to take out any loans. Yes I do have two standing loans which were taken out with people who do not attend the church.
“These loans have nothing to do with ‘seed offerings’ but are business related with friends. None of these personal loans have anything to do with the church.”
Money, money, money, money, money. Who wants to be a millionaire, who wants to be a billionaire? Sow your seed, invest, however much you put in, you’ll reap the reward straight away
Lillian Okolie, a youth worker from Croydon, told HuffPost UK she knows of at least six other young people, some students, who have been strongly encouraged or pressured to take out loans. She says she has seen the paperwork to prove this.
“This is their business model,’” she claimed. “Pastors get people to take out loans for them or be guarantors, they get the lump sum and, that’s it, you won’t hear from them again. There’s no repayments and, obviously, if those payments are missed it falls on the guarantor’s head.”
“No one’s answering calls, no one’s making payments and it messes up these young people’s credit history,” she said.
SPAC Nation denied the allegations of financial impropriety had anything to do with the church.
“We have set up a committee to look into any, if there are any, of these allegations,” its spokesman Ogoloma told HuffPost UK. “We have found out that there are disputes amongst friends occasionally.”
He continued: “We see it as an intentional smear campaign also based on gossip. SPAC Nation has never and will never coerce anyone. We have given to many, we have helped countless people, which we will keep doing and will always focus on doing so.”
Okolie however said authorities are not taking the situation seriously and something needs to be done to address the alleged financial impropriety within the ranks of SPAC Nation’s pastors. She reported her safeguarding concerns to Croydon Council.
She says the debts young people are being left with can have a lasting impact on their lives and that they are left responsible for these loans and don’t understand the severity of the situation.
“They’re not educated to know that this is going to impact them, they’re not educated to know that you being a guarantor means that these people know your address now. If bailiffs come - they’re coming to your mum’s house.”
Okolie describes recruitment drives where SPAC Nation pastors target youth hotspots such as fast food outlets McDonalds and Morleys, and milkshake parlour Creams, with shows of opulence in order to entice new members into the church, where she believes they are vulnerable.
By their own admission, SPAC Nation pastors said they adopt this approach in order to “win souls”.
Okolie describes pastors waiting for young people to reach an age where they’re able to register a business on Companies House. “They’re not actually trading, nothing’s gone on, there aren’t any accounts being submitted, but what that means is you’re actually now able to take out a business loan with a bank, and give it to SPAC Nation, because you’ve got a business now,” she said.
The £200 ‘Seed Offering’ Envelopes
HuffPost UK has been told that the culture of “seed giving” cultivated by SPAC Nation senior pastors is also driving young people into serious debt.
Steven, whose name we have changed to protect his identity, attended SPAC Nation for a brief period but left after feeling concerned about the huge emphasis they placed on money.
While we’re talking about SPAC I just want to remind you people this is what their offering envelope looked like in 2017. Pre-Brexit too so I’m assuming the minimum isn’t £200 anymore. Probably £500 now. pic.twitter.com/Oenc6gihsB— KamBoogie 🇯🇲 (@imnotforreal) August 20, 2019
“Each service they kept talking about money. Money, money, money, money, money. Who wants to be a millionaire, who wants to be a billionaire? Sow your seed, invest, however much you put in, you’ll reap the reward straight away – that kind of talk,” he told HuffPost UK.
“They made it seem like if you come to the church and give money, they guarantee you’d make it back. Everything just seemed geared towards money, as opposed to guaranteeing my entry into heaven; it was more about enjoying life now.”
“Pastors said the consequence of not giving money to them was that you’re delaying your blessings,” he said.
The 27 year-old said the final straw came for him when Pastor Tobi Adeboyega, the lead pastor, started specifying amounts of money that people should give for their “seed”, or offering.
“They were always going into a rant about how people need to give money and if you’re not giving money, you’re not doing it right,” he said. “That final week I attended was when pastor Tobi [Adegboyega] started specifying amounts of money that people should give [for] their offering. It was like a £200 envelope or more. At that point I was like ‘nah, this is just too much’.”
Others told HuffPost UK that people are not welcomed at SPAC Nation church services, which are hosted in lavish rented venues across London rather than in one base, if they do not give money. We have seen pictures of the £200 “seed giving envelopes” which show in large letters the minimum donation that is expected.
Another young woman, Anna, whose name we have changed, also stopped attending services after becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to give large amounts of cash.
“We were there on New Years Eve 2017, and that’s when the £200 offering envelopes started,” she told HuffPost UK. “I wasn’t really fussed because I wasn’t planning on giving £200 anyway but I was surprised by how many young people were going forward to give that amount.’”
“They would attach the preaching to sowing [giving money]. It became more frequent for them to ask for big amounts.”
But SPAC Nation’s spokesman denied these allegations.
“In the context of a church or a charity, people are encouraged to give, to help the work of that charity,” said Ogoloma. “SPAC Nation does not raise money in our services.”
‘I Was Pressured Into Donating My £5,000 Student Loan’
Yet another young woman, Rachel, who also wishes to remain anonymous, says she was pressurised into giving a substantial amount of her £5,000 student loan to a SPAC Nation pastor during her two year stint at the church. HuffPost UK has seen copies of bank statements showing she withdrew £750 in just 28 days over the period where this giving was happening.
The 22-year-old university student even sold her laptop, given to her by her mother for studying, and gave the money to the SPAC Nation pastor as offering money – commonly referred to as “seed” in the church.
Rachel said church members are actively encouraged by pastors to sell valuable items if they must and give the money to pastors for the church.
“It’s like a race – people are giving a lot of money. You want to catch up, you want to be a part of it and they praise you for it as well. If you don’t give enough money, you’re not involved as much because they know you’re not the one that’s gonna raise much. I feel that SPAC Nation targets young people, vulnerable people, so that it looks like they’re helping them but they’re not,” she told HuffPost UK.
It is alleged that SPAC Nation pastors put pressure on young people they claim to be trying to help to isolate themselves from their families and only associate with other SPAC Nation members.
Rachel, who was just 21-years-old when she began attending the church, says this happened in her case. She was in an abusive relationship and found it difficult to open up to people.
“I said that SPAC is going to be my new family, my new life,” she said. “I was still at home but I would not speak to my parents. I was so argumentative; I would argue with anyone who came to me criticising SPAC Nation, I would fight you.”
Rachel’s financial contributions were often made in cash according to strict instructions from pastors, distributed throughout church WhatsApp groups, that all members should submit donations in this way.
According to the former SPAC Nation member, money is the key incentive behind being ordained as a pastor within the organisation; the more money someone gives, or the more people or “souls” one can bring to the church, the higher the probability of a person being ordained.
Rachel said new members are asked about what they are doing in terms of career prospects and what your money-making aspirations are. “They know all students get their student loan payments, so they will make the giving date around the time when they know your loan is gonna drop or payday for people that work. They used to do giving at the end of the month - now it’s weekly,” she explained.
“There would be competition between SPAC Nation fellowships [branches within the church] for who would give the most money, then Pastor Tobi [Adegboyega] would announce on Sunday which one gave the most.”
And the figures reflect that SPAC Nation’s income from donations has increased substantially over the past two years. Last year the church declared almost £1.2 million income from “tithes and offerings” to the Charity Commission. Only two years before it was just £164,000.
“It only stands to logic that a growing organisation will also and must also have growing finances,” Ogoloma told HuffPost UK. “In 2016, the whole church was less than 300 people.”
He continued: “We have been transparent about our records of our finances. So the fact that our finances grew as our church grew since 2016, I do not understand where the controversy lies.”
On the wider allegations in relation to “seed giving” and pressure on people, Ogoloma said: “SPAC Nation declares its accounts yearly. It has a list of donors and it simply It has a list of donors and it simply doesn’t just work the way you’re proposing.”
‘I Was On The Inside Of Spac Nation And I’ve Seen How They Hurt People’
Rapper Tkay Mukuna, more commonly known as just ‘TKay’, was up until a few weeks ago among SPAC Nation’s trusted inner circle as a member of its gospel drill group, Hope Dealers, whose hit song Trap Mash has been viewed more than 2million times on YouTube.
He joined SPAC Nation after spending time in jail for a firearms offence. He had been part of a gang for over decade, and is open about his past.
Following a public fall-out with lead pastor Tobi Adegboyega, the 24-year-old decided to leave the church and has spoken out on social media about what he witnessed during his time there.
He told HuffPost UK he has witnessed first-hand how the church pressurises young people into taking out loans and signing up as guarantors.
Tkay told HuffPost UK that money from loans and “seed” donations goes directly towards funding pastors’ lavish lifestyles.
“They’re not working hard or going to work,” he said. “They pressure people to give money, they keep some of it to themselves and they pass it onto pastor Tobi.” Ogoloma denied this, telling HuffPost UK: “Pastor Tobi started the church many years ago and has never been paid for any service, neither does he have the right or access into donations.”
Tkay alleges there was a money-making drive within SPAC Nation last year and that £30,000 was raised in cash donations during one SPAC Nation service.
The following day, September 11, 2018, Tkay met with pastor Tobi Adegboyega at an upmarket Mayfair jewellers where he alleges he saw the leader dip in a large stash of cash in order to pay £3,000-5,000 for two Rolex watches. HuffPost UK has seen video footage which apparently shows Tobi Adegboyega and his entourage at the shop.
“It was all paid for in cash and, when everyone gave during the service, it was all in cash,” said Tkay. “So I was thinking, ‘Everyone gave money and the next day, you’re buying Rolexes’. That’s disrespectful, isn’t it?”
In relation to these allegations, SPAC Nation’s spokesman said he did not speak for Tobi Adegboyega but that he had shown him HuffPost UK’s questions.
“He doesn’t see anything important to answer there as of yet,” said Ogoloma.
Tkay claims it was not unusual to eat in the 5 Star Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair when he was with Tobi Adegboyega.
“A lot of times, they have most of their meetings at these places,” he said. “They even know him there; he’ll have his own parking spot.”
In response to Tkay’s allegations, Ogoloma said: “Your source lived, was fed, with his girlfriend and daughter and was given money to start a coaching career.”
Former students Toye and Rachel both echo Tkay’s claims that money given to pastors is used to fund their lifestyles. Rachel said: “That’s evident because if you go SPAC you can see every week that they have new everything: new shoes, new clothes - but they’re not working for it.”
Echoing Rachel’s observations, the rapper said competitions are regularly held across fellowships, or factions, within SPAC Nation around which can raise the most money.
Members are constantly told to give money and these messages are heavily interwoven into sermons which regularly take place on the social media platform Periscope.
In one sermon just four months ago, a senior pastor Alexander Kenlock told the church’s devout followers: “I still feel that we haven’t been intentional with our pastoring… whenever I realise that my finances are going low – I check the people that I am raising. My finances are in direct proportion to the people or to the level of shepherding that I’m doing at that particular time.”
In response SPAC Nation’s spokesman said: “What Pastor Alex says in his sermon is left to Pastor Alex to defend.”
Alexander Kenlock told us: “The periscope you have mentioned was an extract from a 30mins or even shorter, preaching and part of that preaching is teaching others about how to raise their own finances and being transparent about my own financial status.”
Councils Also Have Concerns About Safeguarding
The concerns about SPAC Nation do not emanate just from former members of the church.
Earlier this year London local authority safeguarding leads from councils across the capital and police attended a meeting in which safeguarding issues relating to SPAC Nation were discussed. Teachers have also expressed concern about the church’s controversial activities.
The Charity Commission, the official regulatory body of charities including religious groups, also has an ongoing regulatory compliance case open for Salvation Proclaimers Ministries Limited, the charity that runs the church.
“Concerns have been raised with us about the Salvation Proclaimers Ministries Limited,” a spokeswoman said. “We have an ongoing regulatory compliance case examining governance matters at the charity and have issued the trustees with an action plan... We will be assessing the charity’s response to the action plan to consider next steps. We cannot comment further at this time.”
SPAC Nation’s spokesman told us: “The Charity Commission has the right to ask questions about things that they don’t understand but let me assure you that every question that we’ve been asked by the Charity Commission has been adequately answered and if they had more we would be happy to answer them as well.”
They provided no comment on whether or not they were implementing the action plan.
Why Has Somebody Not Moved To Investigate Sooner?
A failure of politicians and law enforcement to stem a dramatically rising tide of knife crime and gang violence in the capital has seen SPAC Nation rise to prominence as a proposed solution.
But critics argue that the activities of their pastors have placed the young people they say they are helping in a vulnerable position – and that the church has not acted to investigate the allegations against its pastors or put a structure in place to prevent this happening in the future.
One source who works with young people told HuffPost UK: “Basically I think these are people who are capitalising on the fact that the whole youth gang and knife crime thing is in the media, and so they know that it is perfectly palatable for them to mask anything they’re doing at the moment as in pursuit of rescue of misguided teens.”
One Christian blogger, who has closely followed the activities of SPAC Nation, say politicians and police have been lulled into believing the church is advocating for local communities because of its perceived positive outreach work on knife crime, and that SPAC Nation has fallen under the radar because its victims are predominantly impoverished black youth.
Crucially, concerns have been shared quite openly among the black community on social media, but appear to have been largely ignored by the mainstream media. SPAC Nation has received positive coverage from a number of media outlets.
The biggest publicity boost for SPAC Nation came from a BBC Three three-part documentary from March 2019, called ‘Escaping Gangs’.
In February 2018 the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme featured a report about “The church where drugs and knives are left at the altar.” At one point in the piece, the reporter refers to the politician Gavin Barwell. The voiceover tells viewers, “The former MP, now chief of staff to the prime minister [Theresa May], met members last year and praised the church’s approach to tackling knife crime.”
SPAC Nation has promoted on social media Tobi Adegboyega’s meeting with cabinet ministers at 10 Downing Street on May 9, 2018 and his attendance of the Conservative Party Conference, which he claimed was at the invitation of Number 10. Adegboyega also had a meeting with the Metropolitan Police’s violence team earlier this year.
Gavin Barwell, the politician mentioned in the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme’s report, attended a SPAC Nation event when he was housing minister, and met leader Tobi Adegboyega. Barwell posted on Facebook the following day: “It’s amazing to see how they’ve changed the lives of so many young people in #Croydon. I look forward to working with them in future.”
Another government minister has also publicly praised the work of SPAC Nation. On September 18, 2019 Home Office minister Victoria Atkins was asked if the government should be backing SPAC Nation on Sky News, following a report on the church’s work to house young people affected by gang violence. She said: “I think it’s great that a charity is doing this” and later adds “I think it’s a really interesting initiative”.
Adegboyega was the recipient of a 2018 London Leadership and Peace Award, sponsored by the Mayor of London’s office, and the award ceremony entertainment in December last year was heavily dominated by SPAC Nation members including performances from the Hope Dealers.
It is claimed that publicity in from the media and politicians has helped to bring respectability to the church’s work and has played a part in SPAC Nation’s quick rise to prominence as one of the few organisations that is offering a solution to London’s knife crime epidemic.
SPAC Nation’s spokesman said it was usual for an organisation to promote its work.
“SPAC Nation has never received any favour, endorsement or finances from any governmental bodies,” Ogoloma said. “It has never written letters to meet with any institution, either police or government. Respectability is not what we are looking for, we are looking to change lives.”
Christian vlogger Kojo Ampadu, 28, has regularly used his platform to raise concerns about SPAC Nation following a visit to the church in 2018 where he felt uneasy.
Ampadu says he believes that it is possible that mainstream media and authorities have been slow to investigate the church because it is a black institution.
“Looking at it from a racial point of view, if this was white people then potentially there would have been more in terms of investigation,” he said. “Whereas in this case we’ve had to wait for so many Twitter and Instagram posts saying things are happening before we got to this stage where the matter is being taken more seriously.”
Ampadu says that London’s knife crime crisis has put a strain on the government which has fuelled a desperation for solutions–- one that SPAC Nation claims to have through its capacity to reach at-risk young people.
“We’ve got a police force that are starved in terms of resources. I feel like the government doesn’t know what to do. The police don’t know what to do. Everyone’s looking for answers so long as we can get someone who’ll give us some type of answer. Then yeah, we’ll be happy to take it,” the vlogger said.
On the slew of positive coverage across the national media, he added: “Why were the media so keen to report such good news about SPAC Nation? I think it’s because people don’t want to do due diligence because they don’t have an answer. They want something to fight the fire.”
People are giving a lot of money. You want to catch up, you want to be a part of it and they praise you for it as well. If you don’t give enough money, you’re not involved as much because they know you’re not the one that’s gonna raise much.
Former church member Anna told HuffPost UK: “You have to be in the church or directly know people who are involved and are willing to expose them. I think, to an extent, this would be more investigated if this were a church full of white people.”
Retired chief superintendent Leroy Logan said he was shocked to hear of the allegations.
“I would like to think that if it’s something that is as bad as you say then obviously the authorities will take appropriate action and we want to make sure that it’s going to have the desired effect, because the last thing that we would want is for people to be groomed, manipulated and trapped in some sort of financial scheme that, at the end of the day, is not in adherence with the principles of the Bible, as we know it under the Christian faith.”
He continued: “I think a lot of the issues around crime and violence, especially from an African Caribbean perspective, are around identity and a sense of belonging. One of the things that I could see that SPAC Nation does, was creating that sense of family within the church.”
But the sources who spoke to us for this investigation have all called for an audit into SPAC Nation’s financial processes.
HuffPost UK approached Downing Street and The Conservative Party for comment and has not received a response.
CLARIFICATION: The original version of this article stated that Gavin Barwell’s comments were featured in the BBC Three documentary. They were in fact featured in the report by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.