Why won’t Tim Farron explain the donation he declared from a dormant company just prior to dissolution without filing overdue accounts?

  1. On 4 April 2016, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP declared a cash donation of £2k on the register of MPs’ financial interests. It came from BTP Advisers International Ltd (registered company number: 08522892). The Lib Dems in his constituency, Westmorland and Lonsdale, accepted the donation from the company on 31 March 2016, according to the Electoral Commission online database.
  2. BTP Advisers International Ltd was dissolved on 19 July 2016, after filing one set of accounts only – for a dormant company – made up to 31 May 2014, Companies House records show. It was incorporated on 9 May 2013 by its two directors, Sandra Lawman and Mark Pursey.
  3. Both have been politically active with the Lib Dems, and for a long time. On 6 March 2017, Mr Pursey said in an email that he was a party member, and had been “for the last 27 years.” He added: “I have no involvement in the party today beyond being a member and supporter. However, in the past, I have served as a local Lib Dem councillor, worked for the party, and volunteered to help on many of its campaigns.” Meanwhile, Ms Lawman’s profile on the website of Dudley Miles Company Services Limited (registered company number: 03208062), a company where she’s now a director, lists various roles as a Lib Dem activist (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Sandra Lawman profile on Dudley Miles Company Services Limited website at 27 April 2017

  4. Mr Pursey campaigned as a Lib Dem for the UK to leave the EU – he was a member of the Liberal Leave team, as its homepage at 20 June 2016 shows: https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20160620223359/liberalleave.org.
  5. Political donations above £2k must be disclosed by a company in the directors’ report within the annual report. This donation, of course, falls just under. Yet dormant BTP Advisers International Ltd didn’t even file its overdue second accounts, made up to 31 May 2015. It was then dissolved, of course, on 19 July 2016. How could a dormant company donate £2k to the Lib Dem leader?
  6. So I asked Ms Lawman and Mr Pursey in an email three questions about their company and the donation. On 6 March 2017, Mr Pursey told me in an email that the donation didn’t come from BTP Advisers International Ltd. Rather, it came from BTP Advisers Limited (registered company number: 07455523). That, he told me, “is an active company, and always has been.” Mr Pursey also asked where the donation was shown as from BTP Advisers International Ltd, despite the fact I’d explicitly referred to the register of MPs’ financial interests. I pointed again to Mr Farron’s entry there, providing the link; whereupon he replied in an email the same day: “Well then that’s wrong. I am [sic] no idea why that is what is down. I’ll ask them to change it.”
  7. Ms Lawman at Dudley Miles Company Services Limited didn’t respond to the original email.
  8. What does BTP Advisers Limited do? It’s a “multi-award winning communications agency working across international media relations, crisis management, political campaigns and legal disputes,” says the Twitter biography (@btpadvisers). Mr Pursey is founder and managing partner.
  9. Not everyone is a fan, however. In December 2011, for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Mr Pursey had boasted to an undercover reporter of BTP Advisers Limited’s PR work for the Rwandan government, including its creation of an internet “attack site” to counter accusations that the government had been involved in genocide: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2011-12-06/pr-firm-attacked-critics-of-rwandan-government. There the Bureau also reported his claim the company was working for the controversial government of Azerbaijan.
  10. In March 2013, meanwhile, The Sunday Times newspaper exposed BTP Advisers Limited’s role in the Kenyan presidential election, in particular orchestrating an alleged “dirty tricks” campaign against British diplomats, on behalf of eventual winner Uhuru Kenyatta: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/lib-dem-defeats-our-man-in-kenya-830n0rs5vj5.
  11. On 21 April 2016, the Guido Fawkes website criticised Mr Farron for accepting the £2k donation from what it identifies as BTP Advisers because of the company’s PR work for “some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world”: https://order-order.com/2016/04/21/farron-bankrolled-by-disgraced-rwanda-spinners/. Guido Fawkes said nothing, though, about the actual company on the official record for the donation, BTP Advisers International Ltd.
  12. There’s no suggestion that anyone has done anything illegal.
  13. On 7 March 2017, I emailed Mr Farron at parliament seeking an explanation for the discrepancy between his declaration on the register of MPs’ financial interests and what Mr Pursey had told me in emails the day before. Having heard nothing, I sent a reminder a week later. This time his office (no name disclosed) acknowledged receipt, on 17 March 2017, adding: “We are making enquiries and will come back to you in due course.” Again, nothing. So I sent a third email on 19 April 2017. At date of publication I haven’t had a response.
  14. Mr Farron’s declaration is unchanged on the latest register of MPs’ financial interests (that is, at 10 April 2017). Similarly, at date of publication BTP Advisers International Ltd remains as donor on the Electoral Commission online database.

Give Us Time: accounts hide provision of flights for founder Dr Liam Fox MP’s staff

  1. The most recent accounts for Give Us Time, a military charity founded in 2012 by Dr Liam Fox MP, hide in two ways its provision of flights for Dr Fox’s staff. First, the two staff members are included within the charity’s beneficiaries, but there’s no indication in the accounts that Give Us Time considers them as such – or why. Second, the flights represent an undisclosed related party transaction between the charity and Dr Fox, the international trade secretary. Yet there were no related party transactions, according to the accounts.
  2. On 21 March 2016, Brexiteer Dr Fox declared on the register of MPs’ financial interests a visit at the end of the previous month to the Balkan Jewel Resort in Bulgaria as part of a group holiday for military families organised by Give Us Time (registered charity number: 1152978). The cabinet minister was accompanied by two staff members, whose return flights to Bulgaria were paid for by the charity, his declaration shows. The accommodation for all three, meanwhile, was donated by the Balkan Jewel Resort.
  3. The charity has recently returned from another group holiday at the Balkan Jewel Resort (screen shot in Figure 1). Give Us Time “takes holidays donated by owners of holiday groups, hotels, holiday homes and timeshares, and matches them with military families in need of rest, rehabilitation and reconnection after tours of duty,” the “About Us” page on the charity website says.

    Figure 1. Give Us Time tweets about recent group holiday at the Balkan Jewel Resort in Bulgaria at 13 April 2017

  4. Something not on the website: Give Us Time began as a collaboration between Dr Fox and Afghan Heroes (registered charity number: 1132340), the notorious failed military charity (see para 32 in my 6 January 2014 post). Dr Fox was a patron of Afghan Heroes, quitting when regulator the Charity Commission announced in December 2013 that it’d opened a statutory inquiry into the charity. That inquiry continues.
  5. Dr Fox’s staff were with him on last year’s group holiday in Bulgaria as “representatives” of Give Us Time, according to his declaration on the register of MPs’ financial interests.
  6. A few weeks ago, Give Us Time published its latest trustees’ annual report (TAR) and accounts, made up to 30 September 2016. Thus both cover the year Dr Fox and two staff members went on the charity’s Bulgaria group trip. Nevertheless neither record the fact that Give Us Time had paid for flights for Dr Fox’s staff.
  7. When I queried the omission, Rupert Forrest, public contact for Give Us Time, said in an email: “I do not believe it is necessary to break out the two flights in the annual accounts.” In response, I asked him to tell me where exactly the value of the two flights is reported in the itemised breakdown of the costs of charitable activities, in note 7, “Activities undertaken directly,” on p.9 of the latest TAR and accounts (screen shot in Figure 2). That is, under which item?

    Figure 2. Note 7, “Activities undertaken directly,” Give Us Time accounts made up to 30 September 2016

  8. The flights, he replied, were part of a group booking, which in turn is included within “Travel and accommodation expenses for beneficiaries.” Thus Dr Fox’s two staff members are classified as beneficiaries, but there’s no indication in the accounts that Give Us Time considers them as such – or why.
  9. The other way in which the charity’s provision of flights for Dr Fox’s staff is hidden is via an undisclosed related party transaction. Yet there were no related party transactions, according to the accounts: see note 12, “Related party transactions,” p.10 of the latest TAR and accounts (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Note 12, “Related party transactions,” Give Us Time accounts made up to 30 September 2016

  10. How did Give Us Time engage in an undisclosed related party transaction? Founder Dr Fox is a related party because he “has significant influence over the reporting entity” (see International Accounting Standard 24 Related Party Disclosures (IAS 24): http://www.iasplus.com/en-gb/standards/ias/ias24). Thus Dr Fox’s receipt, in his name, from Give us Time of return flights to Bulgaria for two staff members is a related party transaction – an undisclosed related party transaction.
  11. When I requested a comment on the undisclosed related party transaction, Mr Forrest said in a one-sentence email: “Give Us Time’s accounts have been prepared in accordance with the Charities SORP.” (The Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator issue the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) for charities, guidance on their financial accounting and reporting: http://www.charitysorp.org.)
  12. Give Us Time’s response on the undisclosed related party transaction is clearly inadequate because it fails to explain the charity’s statement in the accounts that there were no related party transactions.
  13. The trustees are collectively responsible for Give Us Time’s actions, including its financial reporting. Founder Dr Fox isn’t a trustee, and so can’t be held directly accountable for the unacceptable lack of disclosure in the latest accounts related to his involvement with the charity.
  14. What’s worse, before preparing the most recent accounts, Give Us Time knew that there had been legitimate media interest in the return flights to Bulgaria for Dr Fox’s staff following his declaration: see the BuzzFeed News investigation into the charity, published on 31 July 2016: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jamesball/liam-fox-faces-questions-over-charity-he-set-up-to-help-mili.
  15. Give Us Time’s intended beneficiaries are “military families in need.” The actual beneficiaries, however, include Dr Fox’s two staff members – something hidden in the accounts.

ITV’s Dr Chris Steele also plugged products without disclosure of interest

  1. Dr Hilary Jones isn’t the only resident doctor who’s promoted on ITV’s programmes specific health-related products and services, without disclosing his commercial relationships with the relevant companies (see previous post and references therein). Dr Chris Steele has done it, too.
  2. Dr Steele, a GP like Dr Jones, has been the resident doctor on ITV’s This Morning for nearly 30 years.
  3. Andrew Gilligan broke the story in The Sunday Times newspaper on 16 April 2017 (“Second ITV doctor plugged products”). I’m named and quoted in his report, which appeared on p.10 (scanned copy in Figure 1). It’s also available on the newspaper’s website, behind a paywall: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/second-itv-doctor-plugged-products-q2s503z35.

    Figure 1. The Sunday Times (16 April 2017, p.10)

Dr Hilary Jones exposé in The Sunday Times

  1. On 9 April 2017, Andrew Gilligan used my Dr Hilary Jones exposé (see 3 April 2017 post) as the basis of a report in The Sunday Times newspaper.
  2. Gilligan‘s report (“Dr Dishy’s dose of hidden plugs”) is available on the newspaper’s website, behind a paywall: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dr-dishys-dose-of-hidden-plugs-9tkbjzg65. Here too is a scanned copy of the page for those like me outside the paywall: The Sunday Times 9 April 2017.

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home fined £9k by the Information Commissioner’s Office

  1. On 5 April 2017, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (registered charity number: 206394) was one of 11 charities fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for breaching the Data Protection Act by misusing donors’ personal data. The animal charity’s fine was £9k. Here’s the ICO press release: https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2017/04/ico-fines-eleven-more-charities/.
  2. Regulator the Charity Commission has today responded to the ICO announcement, confirming that it has opened compliance cases into the 11 charities. Here’s the Charity Commission press release: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/charity-commission-responds-to-ico-issuing-penalties-to-11-charities.
  3. The fine for Battersea is only the latest indication of serious problems with the charity’s fundraising methods. On 13 December 2016, I exclusively reported that the world-famous charity has been working with a professional fundraiser that uses a fake company to vet staff. This after the charity had reviewed its processes and checks because of the failure of a previous professional fundraiser – a failure which has now led to the loss of £43 056 given by the public, I revealed. Oh, and Battersea refused to answer legitimate questions about the lost £43 056.
  4. Battersea deserves to be, ahem, in the doghouse for its fundraising shambles.

“TV’s favourite doctor” should be in hot water for plugging hot tubs (and the rest)

  1. The outside promotional activities of Good Morning Britain’s (GMB) health editor, Dr Hilary Jones, who’s a GP, risk undermining both his and the TV programme’s editorial integrity. GMB’s handling of my complaint about his outside promotional activities was itself unsatisfactory and confused: the programme initially stated, erroneously, that Dr Jones doesn’t endorse specific health-related products and services. It then altered its position after I’d shown that he DOES endorse specific health-related products and services; many of them. One of his national press ads last summer was unclear and misleading. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed. The dishonest ad shames self-styled “TV’s favourite doctor”. Finally, both Dr Jones’ personal website and his Twitter feed merge content from his different activities, including his outside promotional activities, without disclosing commercial relationships. The GMB website links to both Dr Jones’ personal website and his Twitter feed.
  2. Last summer, I became fed up of seeing so often GMB’s health editor, Dr Jones, plugging products in national press ads. His outside promotional activities risk undermining both his and the TV programme’s editorial integrity. There’s a clear conflict of interest between his role as health editor on GMB and his endorsement of health-related products and services. This conflict of interest, which is entirely avoidable, risks undermining both his and the breakfast TV programme’s editorial integrity and credibility. So I asked GMB in an email: Why are you seemingly happy to damage your reputation in this way? I put the same question to Dr Jones’ “management team” in an email, too (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Contact Dr Hilary Jones at 28 July 2016

  3. I didn’t receive a response from his named representative, Kim Chapman, but I did hear from Andrew (no second name supplied), viewer services officer at GMB. He initially stated, erroneously, that Dr Jones doesn’t endorse specific health-related products and services: “Dr Jones’ work for other organisations does not include directly endorsing or selling specific health related products but stresses the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own health and making informed decisions. This might include stressing the importance of having free hearing tests if you are over 50 or considering a stairlift if you are disabled and challenged by stairs but don’t want to move home. It is generic and general medical advice which any doctor might give their patients in the surgery but on a wider scale.”
  4. Despite what Andrew initially said in his email, Dr Jones DOES endorse specific health-related products and services; many of them. The GMB response mentions stairlifts: the medic currently appears in national press ads for Acorn stairlifts. A photo of “TV’s Dr Hilary Jones” with his signature appears prominently on the company homepage, too. Similarly, he also advertises Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd, a supplier of bathrooms for those with mobility problems. Dr Jones styles himself as “TV’s favourite doctor” in some national press ads and other promotional material for the company.
  5. On 30 March 2017, on a single page in the Daily Mail newspaper, p.67, Dr Jones appeared in two separate ads for health-related products and services: one for Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd, the other for a product called The Eye Doctor. While overleaf there he was again in yet another ad – for Acorn stairlifts!
  6. Making informed decisions” is key for our health, as Andrew at GMB says. So it’s ironic that one of Dr Jones’ recent national press ads with Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd was unclear and misleading, although it’s expressly about advice and information to help informed decision-making! Here’s a scanned copy of the ad, which appeared in the Daily Mail on 12 July 2016: Daily Mail 12 July 2016 (I saw it in other newspapers.) He’s promoting his “independent bathing guide,” itself a misleading title (the word “independent” is ambiguous), which contains “the key information required to make an informed decision”. The ad shows the cover of the guide, proclaiming “expert advice from TV’s favourite doctor”. The ad was unclear and misleading because it fails to disclose that the guide is produced “in association with” a business – Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd. There’s no mention of the firm. The omission in the ad precludes an informed decision about the credibility and provenance of the free guide.
  7. I complained about the unclear and misleading ad to the ASA. On 28 September 2016, the advertising watchdog included the ad from Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd in that week’s list of “informally resolved cases”: https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/rulings.html. The ASA’s “informally resolved cases” are those where the advertiser in the complaint “agreed to amend or withdraw advertising without the need for a formal investigation.”
  8. As you can see, the ASA’s reporting of “informally resolved cases” is inadequate. There’s no record of how the ad is unsatisfactory (i.e. details of the upheld complaint) – only company name, industry sector and medium in which the ad appeared. Big deal. For the ASA’s naming and shaming to be more effective, unsatisfactory ads should be described. Instead, by hiding the details of the ad, the ASA helps Dr Jones and Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd to avoid scrutiny. Why?
  9. What’s worse, Dr Jones’ free guide itself is unacceptable. (I obtained a copy.) This is because the “expert advice from TV’s favourite doctor” finishes with his recommending, er, the company he’s paid to endorse, Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd.
  10. I wrote again to Ms Chapman requesting, among other things, a comment on the ad in light of the ASA’s disapproval and action. This time I received a response, but Ms Chapman declined to comment on the ad.
  11. On 12 July 2016, there were two photos of Dr Jones in the Daily Mirror newspaper. The first, on p.32, accompanied an article in the “Your Health” section previewing an upcoming GMB report on use of anabolic steroids by gym-goers. There was a long quote from GMB’s doctor in a standalone section headed “The dangers of gym drugs”. Dr Jones popped up again on p.45 – advertising Mobility Plus Bathing Ltd.
  12. Another claim from Andrew must be challenged – alleged separation of roles: “Indeed Dr Jones takes great care, as do we, that none of his other media work uses his title of Good Morning Britain’s Health Editor for this very reason. Consequently his work outside the TV programme does not have a bearing on the views he expresses on ITV and vice versa.”
  13. GMB may take “great care” about use by Dr Jones of his job title of GMB’s health editor. Nevertheless the GMB website links to both Dr Jones’ personal website and his Twitter feed (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Dr Hilary Jones on GMB website at 18 July 2016

  14. As he says on his homepage, it’s “vital” that medical information for the public is “reliable and accurate”. There Dr Jones directs people to his Twitter feed “where you will receive up-to-date topical, seasonal advice plus recent articles and TV broadcasts.” But among official NHS information and health advice his 26.4k Twitter followers (at date of publication) also receive tweets that fail to disclose the commercial relationships between Dr Jones and numerous companies he mentions. It’s only when you visit the company websites that you discover that “TV’s favourite doctor” has a financial interest.
  15. True, the 140-character limit of a tweet doesn’t always make disclosure easy. But Dr Jones doesn’t even declare any interests in his Twitter biography (screen shot in Figure 3). In fact, it’s not even a biography, only a link to his Facebook page. This absence of biography is surely unacceptable.

    Figure 3. Dr Hilary Jones on Twitter at 18 July 2016

  16. His website, too, fails to disclose interests anywhere. The “links” page is especially revealing for what it doesn’t reveal (screen shot in Figure 4). There’s no text, only the clickable logos of sixteen – yes, sixteen – brands, including Acorn stairlifts. Note the GMB logo as one of the sixteen.

    Figure 4. Links Dr Hilary Jones at 18 July 2016

  17. The “links” page has recently disappeared, following my bringing it to the attention of GMB. I don’t know when exactly the page vanished.
  18. Despite what the TV programme said, then, the merged content of both Dr Jones’ website and his Twitter feed prove that his outside promotional activities aren’t “distinctly separate” from his role as health editor on GMB. Further, the GMB website, of course, links to both Dr Jones’ website and his Twitter feed.
  19. Anyway, by using the words “TV” and “doctor” together in outside promotional activities, Dr Jones directly references his on-screen role for GMB: “TV’s Dr Hilary Jones” and “TV’s favourite doctor” are two I’ve seen. While he’s “GP, TV presenter & medical broadcaster” in national press ads for The Eye Doctor. Thus the medic replicates his on-screen role to endorse health-related products and services.
  20. Even when he doesn’t explicitly mention TV, Dr Jones still replicates his on-screen role to endorse health-related products and services: see The Hot Tub Superstore website (screen shot in Figure 5), for example. That’s because he’s appeared on TV so regularly as a doctor, for so long, and continues to do so on GMB; his name and face are recognised by the public. He’s thus a celebrity, a celebrity doctor.

    Figure 5. Dr Hilary Jones on The Hot Tub Superstore website at 1 April 2017

  21. The lack of disclosure around Dr Jones extends to public links with Ms Chapman. She also runs, independently, a business teaching swimming, the Kim Chapman Swimming School: www.kimchapmanswimmingschool.co.uk. And “TV’s favourite doctor” pops up on her business website, with a glowing endorsement (screen shot in Figure 6). Two things to notice there. First, no disclosure of the fact that Ms Chapman works for Dr Jones. Second, he’s identified as “ITV Health Editor,” despite GMB’s insistence that the medic never uses his GMB/ITV job title for outside promotional activities. Her swimming school website, meanwhile, in turn recommends Dr Jones’ personal website, describing it as “a great source of medical advice and information, for people of all ages” (screen shot in Figure 7). Perhaps, but again no disclosure of interests. Similarly, in 2013, Dr Jones attended an event promoting Ms Chapman’s business, at a Basingstoke swimming pool: http://www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/news/10707939.Swim_star_Rebecca_Adlington_is_a_splash_hit/. “I have known her [Ms Chapman] for years,” the “celebrity GP” told the local newspaper in another fulsome testimonial. Again nothing about her working for him; perhaps the reporter ran out of space.

    Figure 6. Dr Hilary Jones endorses the Kim Chapman Swimming School at 28 July 2016

    Figure 7. The Kim Chapman Swimming School recommends Dr Hilary Jones’ personal website at 28 July 2016

  22. In my second email to Ms Chapman I again asked her to confirm whether she’s the Kim Chapman of the eponymous swimming school. I also requested she tell me whether she was working for Dr Jones at the date of the report in the Basingstoke Gazette. As I said, this time I received a response: Ms Chapman agreed that disclosure of interests is important, but in my opinion, not on issues as trivial and harmless as this regarding the swimming school. This is just good old-fashioned loyalty, plain and simple!”
  23. Dr Jones has been sitting on the sofas of early-morning TV for ITV since 1989. He’s, ahem, part of the furniture. But Dr Jones isn’t only a trusted TV personality. He’s a doctor; and the public consistently trusts doctors more than any other professional group. Indeed, the TV medic’s “trusted” status is trumpeted by The Hot Tub Superstore (Figure 5) and the manufacturer of The Eye Doctor (screen shot in Figure 8), among other businesses. Viewers – and those reading in the Daily Mirror and elsewhere about his on-screen activities – should be able to rely on both him and GMB for objectivity and judgement. So it’s particularly disappointing that self-styled “TV’s favourite doctor” betrays our trust by directly referencing his on-screen role for GMB in outside promotional activities. It’s equally disappointing that GMB allows its health editor to endorse specific health-related products and services in this way. Dr Jones’ outside promotional activities risk undermining both his and the TV programme’s editorial integrity.

    Figure 8. Dr Hilary Jones endorses The Eye Doctor at 1 April 2017

  24. ADDENDUM: “Here in the UK there can’t be many people who’s [sic] word on our health is more trusted than our nations [sic] own Dr Hilary Jones,” says The Hot Tub Superstore (Figure 5). I’m not so sure – and let’s hope their hot tubs are better than their grammar. Oh, another reason the tie-up between Dr Jones and the Blackpool firm deserves scrutiny: The Hot Tub Superstore were “stars” – their word – of an ITV documentary I somehow missed, “Hot Tub Britain,” broadcast in September 2014 (screen shot in Figure 9). That’s right, ITV, the home of GMB.

    Figure 9. ITV documentary “Hot Tub Britain” at 1 April 2017