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Watchdog launches investigation into trans rights charity Mermaids

Charity Commission says statutory inquiry follows ‘newly identified’ concerns about its governance

Andy Gregory
Friday 02 December 2022 19:00 GMT
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The charity watchdog has launched a formal investigation into Mermaids to establish whether there has been a “serious systemic failing” in the transgender rights organisation’s governance and management.

The Charity Commission opened a “regulatory compliance case” into Mermaids in September, after safeguarding allegations were raised in the wake of reports that the charity had given breast binders to teenagers as young as 13 years old, despite their parents saying they opposed the practice.

Mermaids, which supports transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children and their families, said it had provided binders alongside “comprehensive” safety guidance from experienced staff, in the interests of harm reduction – in the face of “the likely alternative of unsafe practices and/or continued or increasing dysphoria”.

The watchdog announced on Friday that it had escalated its probe to a “statutory inquiry” this week, citing “newly identified issues about the charity’s governance and management”.

It comes just days after Susie Green stepped down after six years as the charity’s chief executive, with no explanation given for her departure. Ms Green was the Leeds-based charity’s first member of staff when it was founded in 1995.

The inquiry – which the Commission stressed was not a finding of wrongdoing in itself – will seek to determine whether the charity’s governance is appropriate in relation to the activities it carries out, the watchdog said.

In particular, the Commission will investigate the charity’s administration, governance and management by trustees, whether they have fulfilled their duties under charity law, and whether there has been any misconduct or mismanagement.

The trustees have fully cooperated with the regulator’s case, but their response has not provided the necessary reassurance or satisfied the watchdog at this stage, according to the Commission.

In a statement on Friday, Mermaids said that it had “decided to carry out a frank and honest appraisal of our internal culture and how we measure up in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion” earlier this year.

“As part of this process, we commissioned an independent external report which highlighted a number of significant challenges for us,” the charity said.

“We know we must do better and we are absolutely committed to doing so, and will be implementing the report’s recommendations as a priority.

“The charity has an unwavering commitment to safeguarding which is, and always will be, our top priority. We will continue to cooperate fully, openly and with complete transparency with the Charity Commission as its inquiry gets underway.”

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