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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Wonka farce CEO faces questions over background checks at charity


Billy Coull and the Gowanbank Community Hub in Pollok left their Disclosure application incomplete despite running a sexual health and trauma clinic

A charity linked to the doomed Willy Wonka event in Glasgow faces questions over its lack of background checks on volunteers offering services such as underage sexual health advice, domestic abuse support and trauma care. 

Billy Coull, the brains behind the AI-driven ‘extravaganza’ that garnered worldwide attention and ridicule, has more questions to answer after it emerged an application to register volunteers and trustees with Disclosure Scotland was not completed. 

Gowanbank Community Hub operated from February 2021 until June 2022, originally set up as a food bank. 

However, throughout the 16-month operation, which saw it pull in nearly £50,000 worth of income, operations expanded significantly but remained run by local volunteers from the Pollok area. 

By the end of its time open, the Hub was offering sexual health advice to those as young as 13, benefits advice, trauma care and even emergency medical support, with Mr Coull styling himself as a doctor and purchasing expensive, expert medical equipment.

The charity also said that it provided “free and confidential counselling for individuals and families”, including boasting of supporting “individuals in addressing mental well-being issues, including managing their own experiences of trauma, shame, and stigma associated with poverty”. 

Among the sexual health services listed on the charity's website were pregnancy, chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing - for which they offered a "drop-in" service at the Hub in Pollok. 

Questions have now emerged as to whether Mr Coull and others linked to the charity were properly registered to carry out the work that they did, some of which would be considered regulated work – work with children and work with protected adults. 

Regulated work includes “jobs with caring responsibilities”, “providing personal services to children or protected adults”, and “working directly with children or protected adults”. 

It can also apply to certain positions of trust within organisations, even when the role does not involve direct contact with children or protected adults, including trustees of charities focused on children or on protected adults. 

For those carrying out such work, an application should be made to the PVG scheme - operated by Disclosure Scotland to check individuals’ suitability to work with vulnerable groups.

Disclosure Scotland checks can, in some cases, come with administrative fees, but no such fees appear anywhere in Gowanbank Community Hub’s accounts for 2021/22. No accounts have yet been published covering later months or years. 

Third Force News understands that the application process for disclosures was started by Gowanbank Community Hub via Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services (VSDS) in June 2022, but that no progress was made and their application was removed from systems after six months had passed. 

VSDS is funded by Disclosure Scotland to support the voluntary sector with its disclosure checks.

A Disclosure Scotland spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on individual cases. We take the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults extremely seriously and will bar anyone from working with vulnerable groups when their convictions make them unsuitable to do so.

“The Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme is not presently compulsory for those doing regulated work with children and protected adults. However, many organisations already treat the PVG scheme as though it is mandatory because it is an offence to employ a barred individual to do regulated work. In practice, the only way for employers to check that an individual is not barred, is to request evidence of PVG scheme membership. The PVG scheme will become compulsory in 2025 when the Disclosure (Scotland) Act 2020 is commenced.”

The Disclosure Scotland spokesperson added: “As per our initial statement, we cannot comment on whether or not any organisation has ever used the PVG scheme. We cannot comment on the propriety or otherwise of any organisation.”

Since the link between Mr Coull and Gowanbank has come to light in recent weeks, significant concerns have been raised by those in the local area. 

A well placed local source told TFN: “The more revelations that are coming out, the more concerned people are. The police should look at this matter.”

Mr Coull’s claim to have been a doctor has also raised concerns about the charity’s practices, given the medical nature of some of the work reportedly carried out, and after locals in the area claimed they understood Mr Coull to have been a medical doctor. 

The former charity CEO lists himself as a doctor, but this qualification is attributed to the University of Sedona, which claims to provide “Metaphysical Degrees”. 

His LinkedIn page, which remains active, lists 49 individual health-based qualifications from online educators which Mr Coull claims to have completed between 2021 and 2024. 

TFN approached the General Medical Council (GMC) - a public body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners within the United Kingdom - to ask whether they had any concerns about Mr Coull’s behaviour and the operations of the Gowanbank Community Hub.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “The title Doctor on its own is not a protected title as it can be an academic qualification. Therefore, a person can legitimately use the title without needing registration with us, as long as they are not undertaking the duties of a licensed medical practitioner. It is illegal for someone to use a protected titles such as doctor of medicine, general practitioner or physician to give the impression that they hold registration and a licence to practise.

“Any doctor who wants to carry out an activity from the UK for which a medical licence is needed has a legal requirement to be registered with a licence to practise. Having a licence allows the doctor to carry out certain activities such as prescribing medicines and treating patients within the UK. All doctors on the register must follow our core guidance, good medical practice, which covers the fundamental aspects of a doctor's role.

“The GMC’s regulatory powers, as set out in the Medical Act, only extend to individual doctors who are on the UK medical register. However, when we receive information suggesting that an individual may be practising medicine without registration, such as prescribing medicine and treating patients, we can and do take appropriate action in line with The Medical Act 1983.” 

TFN understands that this action includes advising the individual of the law, sending cease and desist notices, and making a referral to the police which may lead to prosecution, a criminal record and a substantial fine.

TFN asked both Gowanbank Community Hub and Billy Coull whether they were registered and qualified to carry out the activities listed, but they did not respond.  



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