Commissioner issues apology
Northern Ireland’s Charity Commission has apologised to a woman after it threatened to take legal action after she claimed the regulator contributed to her husband’s death.
Her husband was a member of the Disabled Police Officers Association of NI (DPOANI) and the charity had been under investigation by the commission.
The woman's husband left the service after an IRA bomb attack on a police station in which he received physical and psychological injuries.
The letter, which was sent two years ago, said "any repetition" of the claim that its investigation had contributed to her husband's passing "may result in the commission considering legal action".
The Charity Commission's Chief Commissioner Nicole Lappin, who was not at the regulator when the letter was sent, said: "It is very difficult to hear the impact this letter had on her.
"I am very sorry for that. I want to be very clear, that letter shouldn't have been sent."
She said the letter was "disproportionate" and "not appropriate in any circumstance".
Lappin added that the threat had been withdrawn and that she would be happy to meet the woman to discuss it further.
She also revealed that she is looking at two similar threats to members of the public and has appealed for anyone in a similar situation to come forward.
"When I have looked at the correspondence it certainly would raise questions in my mind about whether or not the correspondence which we sent was appropriate in those circumstances," she said.
The Charity Commission launched a statutory inquiry into DPOANI in 2014 around "concerns about the governance and financial controls" - but the investigation was closed in 2016.
Those under investigation always denied any wrongdoing.
When asked if any action had been taken with regard to the investigation, the Charity Commission said that "the DPOANI statutory inquiry was lawfully instigated as it was a decision taken by a panel of commissioners", however, this interpretation is disputed by a number of charity trustees who are taking legal action against the commission.
CCNI added that "the decision-making process followed when making orders under the inquiry was unlawful as the decisions were taken by staff members and not commissioners".
A leaked report for the former head of the civil service, David Sterling, written by Jonathan Baume, said the case "offers at least prima facie evidence of problematic cultural issues within the CCNI".
It also stated that the CCNI "appears to have a very defensive culture".