Aids trust dismisses financial ruin claim

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BRITAIN's leading Aids charity hit back yesterday at claims that it was facing ruin over allegations of drug dealing, mismanagement and sexual harassment.

The Terrence Higgins Trust estimated that a report in the Sunday Times, which has been running a campaign attacking HIV/Aids research and dismissing reports of an Aids epidemic in Africa, will cost pounds 50,000 in lost donations.

The report alleges that staff at the charity's headquarters in London are involved in peddling drugs, that young members of staff are subjected to homosexual harassment and that an 'auditor's' report criticises its management and says it is facing financial ruin.

Nick Partridge, the Trust's chief executive, said yesterday that the allegations were made by two embittered members of staff, one who was the subject of an internal petty theft investigation and another who had been sacked for fraudulent timekeeping.

'We are in no way facing financial ruin and the allegations have been inflated out of all proportion,' he said. 'We believe this is simply the latest attempt by the Sunday Times to discredit people working in the Aids field.'

Mr Partridge confirmed that three members of staff were suspended over a drug transaction involving cannabis, but he said that it was an isolated incident. There had been no complaints of sexual harassment in the past three years, he said.

The 'auditor's report' referred to by the newspaper is, in fact, a management consultants' survey commissioned by the Trust. It identifies poor strategic planning and says management lacks the experience necessary to run such a large organisation.

But Irene Short, one of the authors of the report, said: 'Our criticism was used very selectively. The fact that it has such management problems is actually a tribute to the speed with which it has grown.'