Five concerns about the first accounts of Veterans Council

  1. The wait is over. Charity Veterans Council (registered charity number: 1159215) recently filed its long-overdue first accounts at the Charity Commission, those made up to 31 March 2016. Only a year late! For that first year, the charity register shows income of £75 942 and expenditure of £72 975 (screen shot in Figure 1). Before describing five concerns about the accounts, I’ll explain why I was awaiting submission of the relevant documents at the commission.

    Figure 1. Veterans Council (registered charity number: 1159215): Charity Commission at 24 February 2018

  2. Based in Lytham St Annes, Veterans Council (1159215) is linked to another north-west military charity also called Veterans Council (registered charity number: 1140336). Veterans Council (1140336) was removed from the Charity Commission public register on 29 July 2015.
  3. Veterans Council (1140336) is of interest for many reasons (see 17 October 2016 post). Here’s two. First, the small, local charity was awarded £0.5m from the government’s Armed forces covenant (LIBOR) fund in June 2013. Second, I exclusively revealed that no accounts show how the charity actually spent the £0.5m grant.
  4. I showed that the last accounts Veterans Council (1140336) filed at the commission, those for financial year ending (FYE) 31 March 2014, were incomplete. The table of contents lists pages not actually in the document submitted to the commission. Among pages seemingly missing is the “income and expenditure account”, so there’s no breakdown of the charity’s spending that year after the first injection of money from the LIBOR fund. And, of course, Veterans Council (1140336) didn’t file accounts the next year, for FYE 31 March 2015, either. So the question remains: how exactly did Veterans Council (1140336) spend the £0.5m from the LIBOR fund?
  5. Veterans Council (1140336) was based in St Helens. My 17 October 2016 investigation was reported in The Wigan Evening Post newspaper on 9 November 2016 (https://www.wigantoday.net/news/charity-chief-says-claims-are-untrue-1-8226307). There Des White, chair of Veterans Council (1140336), dismissed my points about the failure of his charity to report formally what it had actually done with the £0.5m grant. Mr White added that the new Veterans Council (i.e. 1159215) would in due time produce accounts, ensuring transparency and accountability.
  6. So let’s examine the first accounts of Veterans Council (1159215). As I say, they were a year late, which is a bad sign. And remember: the charity register shows income of £75 942 and expenditure of £72 975, for the first year (up to 31 March 2016). Here are five concerns about the accounts.
  7. First, the accounts don’t show the income and expenditure reported on the charity register (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Veterans Council (registered charity number: 1159215): accounts for 31 March 2016, p1, at 24 February 2018

  8. Second, it appears section A of the accounts, “Receipts and payments”, hasn’t been completed correctly: see the breakdown in section A1, “Receipts”, for example (Figure 2). There the data seem to be expenditure.
  9. Third, there’s no evidence of an independent examination of the accounts. This is a critical omission. In other words, Veterans Council (1159215) hasn’t provided evidence of the required external scrutiny of its accounts – here an independent examination. (Charity law requires charities with an income above £25k to have some form of external scrutiny of their accounts.)
  10. Fourth, the linked trustees’ annual report for the period fails to explain the itemised apparent expenditure in the accounts. So who received the “salaries” of £54 125 and why? Similarly, the “rents” of £21 480: who received these and why? Etc.
  11. Fifth, the trustees’ annual report is inadequate. It contains almost no detail on the alleged activities of the charity.
  12. In conclusion, both Veterans Council (1140336) and Veterans Council (1159215) filed inadequate accounts at the Charity Commission. It’s obviously disappointing the charity regulator seemingly failed in both cases to identify the problems – and didn’t act on them. What’s worse, these aren’t independent charities: my findings about Veterans Council (1140336) should have made the commission vigilant about the linked Veterans Council (1159215). At the time both I and The Wigan Evening Post contacted the charity regulator about my 17 October 2016 investigation.
  13. I requested a comment from the Charity Commission on the five concerns about the first accounts of Veterans Council (1159215). On 20 February 2018, a spokesperson said in an email: “I can confirm that we are looking into these concerns and will be contacting the charity about them.” I also requested via email a comment from Edward Nash, chair of and contact for Veterans Council (1159215). In his response on 23 February 2018, Mr Nash refused to address my concerns.
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Doctor plugs products without disclosure of interest on health website Patient

  1. Multi-award-winning health website Patient proudly proclaims its editorial team is “free from any commercial conflicts of interest”. Yet here I show one of the doctors in the team plugged products without disclosure of interest in an article there. To its credit, Patient acted immediately after I brought to its attention the problems with the article.
  2. Established for over 20 years, the independent health website is accredited by The Information Standard, NHS England’s quality mark; and was listed as “The top health website you can’t live without” by The Times newspaper in January 2013. Patient is part of EMIS Group Plc, “a major provider of healthcare software, information technology and related services in the UK” (EMIS Group website). The public and healthcare professionals don’t only access its content directly via Patient.info, which was upgraded in August 2017. Many GP practices, like the one where I’m registered as a patient, use EMIS Group software for their website – and this then includes health information from Patient. The health information on such practice websites is clearly labelled as from Patient.
  3. High-profile media doctor Sarah Jarvis is clinical director of the health website. At the beginning of the year, I wrote to her about its then article on vaginal dryness, published on 26 February 2016. The author was Dr Louise Newson (screen shot in Figure 1), a GP and menopause expert.

    Figure 1. Patient article on vaginal dryness by Dr Louise Newson at 4 January 2018

  4. Dr Newson is and/or has been paid to promote hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and other menopause-related products and services – but doesn’t always disclose her commercial relationships with the relevant companies (see 10 October 2017 post). That exposé was reported by Private Eye (see 3 November 2017 post).
  5. I told Dr Jarvis in an email I had three concerns about the then Patient article on vaginal dryness.
  6. First, there Dr Newson again fails to declare her relevant financial interests (see 10 October 2017 post). She’s paid to promote HRT and at least some, if not all, of the brands of vaginal lubricants and moisturisers she explicitly names (screen shot in Figure 2). She’s also worked with MonaLisa Touch (MLT), raising awareness of vaginal dryness and promoting the company.

    Figure 2. Guidance on HRT, and vaginal lubricants and moisturisers in Patient article on vaginal dryness by Dr Louise Newson at 4 January 2018

  7. Second, the “Clinical Editor’s comments (October 2017)” direct the reader to “the recently released helpful guidelines in the Further reading section below” (screen shot in Figure 3). Dr Newson is one of the two authors of the new guidance, which is published by the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum (PCWHF) (screen shot in Figure 4). My 10 October 2017 post, para 14, reveals Dr Newson failed in the PCWHF guidance to disclose her relevant commercial relationship with MLT. Further, the guidance has five sponsors, which include some of the brands of vaginal lubricants and moisturisers Dr Newson specifically identifies in her article for Patient.

    Figure 3. “Clinical Editor’s comments (October 2017)” in Patient article on vaginal dryness by Dr Louise Newson at 4 January 2018

    Figure 4. “Further reading and references” in Patient article on vaginal dryness by Dr Louise Newson at 4 January 2018

  8. Third, the “article information” shows Dr Newson as peer reviewer as well as author (screen shot in Figure 5). Is she (Dr Newson) really peer reviewer, too, I asked Dr Jarvis.

    Figure 5. “Article information” in Patient article on vaginal dryness by Dr Louise Newson at 4 January 2018

  9. I finished: “As you can see, Dr Newson isn’t ‘free from any commercial conflicts of interest’. Far from it. She undermines both her and Patient‘s credibility by being paid to promote menopause-related products and services. What’s worse, her relevant financial interests are hidden on Patient.”
  10. In her response the next day, Dr Jarvis said Patient had immediately taken a number of steps because of my email. She finished: “I hope you are satisfied with the steps we have taken and I thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.”
  11. Patient had removed the article. Further, Dr Jarvis said in the email: “Going forward, Dr Newson will not be authoring any articles relating to menopause for Patient.info.”
  12. Patient‘s actions and written response prove that my complaint about the article was legitimate. Dr Newson’s article is no longer there.
  13. Dr Newson was shown as both author and peer reviewer of the article due to “an administrative error”, explained Dr Jarvis. Prof Cathy Jackson actually peer-reviewed it. She (Dr Jarvis) continued: “We are currently going through a major development of the information architecture on our site, which involves linking connected clinical issues together. As a result, the peer reviewer has been incorrectly accredited in some of our patient information leaflet (sic). We are working to correct this technical problem as quickly as possible.”
  14. I was duly impressed with Dr Jarvis’ response. It was prompt, and she dealt directly with all the issues I raised. It appeared that Patient was a serious and credible organisation. That was the end of the matter – or so I thought.
  15. A few days later, I received a threatening letter from a solicitor acting for Dr Newson. In his long, rambling missive, the partner from Weightmans, a top 45 national law firm, requested I remove my 10 October 2017 post. This I politely declined to do, saying that there was a clear public interest in it remaining publicly accessible. He quoted extensively from my email to Dr Jarvis: evidently Patient’s clinical director had shared it with his client.
  16. I was astonished the solicitor was taking me to task for, among other things, what I’d written in the message to Dr Jarvis. It was addressed to Patient’s clinical director, and not intended for Dr Newson. The health website’s handling of my complaint is an internal matter – or at least it should be.
  17. The Weightmans partner also berated me for what Private Eye wrote about his client. Yet the magazine should answer for its article, which I didn’t write.
  18. Incidentally, the day after I received the threatening letter from her solicitor, Dr Newson announced on Twitter she was looking forward to speaking that night in Birmingham about menopause in the workplace. Where exactly in Brum? Weightmans (screen shot in Figure 6).

    Figure 6. Dr Louise Newson talk at Weightmans in Birmingham on 18 January 2018

  19. I then asked Dr Jarvis in an email whether Patient authors regularly instructed solicitors to write threatening letters to anyone who complains about content, adding “it’s one way to minimise complaints, I suppose!” I concluded: “Seriously, though, I suggest a warning on Patient to anyone contemplating making a complaint about content that he/she could receive a solicitor’s letter on behalf of a member of the editorial team. That way it would be clear.”
  20. At date of publication Patient’s clinical director hasn’t responded to the last email.

Hidden political lobbying by the UK gambling industry

  1. In October 2017, leading political lobbying firm PLMR organised a parliamentary reception for the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG), the trade body representing all sectors of the UK gambling industry. Because its a member of PR and communications body PRCA, Westminster-based PLMR discloses the clients for whom it has provided politcal lobbying services, on the publicly available PRCA public affairs and lobbying register (https://www.prca.org.uk/about-us/pr-standards/public-affairs-register). Or at least it is supposed to.
  2. On 8 January 2018, PRCA published its most recent version of the static register, that for September to November 2017. And PLMR didn’t list IGRG as a client.
  3. The IGRG parliamentary reception was on 17 October 2017 (Figure 1). As you can see, politicians wishing to attend had to RSVP to David Hall at PLMR. The event was part of IGRG‘s first Responsible Gambling Week, which ran 12-18 October 2017 – slogan: “Let’s talk about responsible gambling”. IGRG‘s press release for its campaign to promote so-called responsible gambling fails to refer explicitly to PLMR or identify any of its staff (rgwprbrief). The only mention of PLMR is in the email address for what the press release calls the campaign’s press office, responsiblegamblingweek@plmr.co.uk.

    Figure 1. Parliamentary reception for the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) during Responsible Gambling Week in October 2017 (Source of image: Harris Hagan website)

  4. IGRG comprises the five trade associations that represent all sectors of the UK gambling industry: the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB); British Amusement Machine Association (BACTA); The Bingo Association (BA); National Casino Forum (NCF); and Remote Gambling Association (RGA). IGRG chair is John Hagan, a gambling lawyer at City of London law firm Harris Hagan.
  5. Although it didn’t list IGRG as a client on the latest register, there PLMR reported working for BA. (None of the other four trade bodies appeared in the PLMR entry.)
  6. On 15 January 2018, I emailed Felicity Fisher at PLMR as shes shown as contact on the register. In her reply a week later, she confirmed I was right: her company had failed to disclose IGRG as a client on the most recent register. The omission “was purely an administrative oversight”.
  7. In the same email, Ms Fisher also said the latest supposedly static PRCA public affairs and lobbying register had been appropriately updated. She referred me to the file containing the updated register on the PRCA website.
  8. Astonishingly, theres no indication on the updated “static” register PRCA has actually amended it. In other words, the update is hidden. Theres no explicit record of when PRCA amended the register, either. So much for transparency and accountability. Highly unsatisfactory.
  9. Nicholas Dunn-Mcafee, head of public affairs, policy and research at PRCA, is contact for the register. Mr Dunn-Mcafee told me in an email his organisation considered PLMR’s failure to disclose IGRG as a client was “an administrative error and one we do not expect to happen again”. He finished: “The right course of action was to ensure this ‘static’ part of the register accurately reflects reality and therefore to update it.”
  10. In his response, Mr Dunn-Mcafee didn’t address my points about PRCA transparency and accountability arising from the hidden update of its latest supposedly static register. I therefore emailed again, pointing out his omission. There was no response.
  11. As I say, BA uses PLMR for its political lobbying. PLMR acts as secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on bingo. The purpose of the APPG is “to represent the interests of the bingo industry in parliament”, according to the parliament website.
  12. BA likes to present bingo as the so-called softer end of gambling, and thus more socially acceptable than other forms. The trade body says on its website it “promotes the position of the bingo industry as a ‘soft’ and highly social form of gambling”.
  13. So you might think BA wouldn’t want to share its political lobbyist with any or all of the four other sectors of the UK gambling industry. That BA actually shares PLMR with all of them shows bingo, despite its marketing, isn’t so different from other forms of gambling.
  14. The bingo APPG’s independence and credibility are undermined by PLMR acting for both BA and IGRG. The APPG could reasonably be perceived as open to the influence of the entire gambling industry via PLMR, not just bingo as it claims. In other words, the bingo APPG represents a hitherto-unrecognised potential means of access into parliament for sectors of the gambling industry other than bingo.
  15. In conclusion, PRCA’s secret updating of its latest supposedly static register amounts to a cover-up. How can the public trust and have confidence in the membership body when it amends its public register without openly and publicly documenting changes? Also, the bingo APPG‘s use of PLMR as secretariat means the former is open to the influence of the entire gambling industry via the latter’s work for IGRG. The onus is therefore on the APPG to prove it‘s acting for, and influenced by, exclusively the bingo industry.
  16. Labour MP Anna Turley, chair and registered contact for the bingo APPG, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Red Cell: who funds the Brexit thinktank and what’s its legal structure?

  1. In November 2017, veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash MP registered on the register of MPs’ financial interests donations he received for a visit to Denmark 28-29 October 2017. Sir Bill went to collect an award from the People’s Movement against the EU, for promoting democracy and international cooperation in Europe”. Brexit thinktank The Red Cell donated £500. But this only begs the question: who gave the money to The Red Cell that enabled it to pay for most of Sir Bill’s trip to the land of Lego?
  2. I first mentioned the thinktank in November last year, when writing about its director, Dr Lee Rotherham (see 22 November 2017 post). A self-styled veteran eurosceptic, Dr Rotherham tweets as “DrBrexit”. He works in parliament for Conservative MP John Hayes, who until January 2018 was Minister of State at the Department for Transport; and has done for several years. Dr Brexit is also executive director at Veterans for Britain, another thinktank. Veterans for Britain was linked to Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. Indeed, Dr Rotherham was director of special projects at Vote Leave (see 22 November 2017 post).
  3. The funding of The Red Cell is opaque. At date of publication its website says nothing about funder(s), past or present. There‘s no indication of how to donate to support its work, either, which is unusual for a thinktank.
  4. But it’s not only the funding thats opaque. Its legal structure is unclear. Again, the website fails to state this. Further, none of the companies registered at Companies House with “Red Cell” in its name appears to be the thinktank, or connected to it. Nor is there a charity registered at the Charity Commission with “Red Cell” in its name. We therefore have no idea of how the The Red Cell will do its financial reporting, if any.
  5. Neither Dr Rotherham nor Sir Bill responded to emails asking two simple questions about the Brexit thinktank. First, whats the source of funding that enabled it to cough up for most of Sir Bill’s visit? Second, what’s its legal structure?
  6. Dr Rotherham in his own name also recently funded a visit to Iceland by David Jones MP, another Brexiteer (9-10 November 2017). Mr Jones went to deliver a lecture on UK withdrawal from the EU, at the University of Iceland. Again, the donation was £500, according to his entry on the register of MPs’ financial interests. The MP’s last ministerial role was as Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, July 2016-June 2017.
  7. Something else about Mr Jones: he’s a patron of The Red Cell, the website shows (screen shot in Figure 1). Cosy.

    Figure 1. David Jones MP is a patron of Brexit thinktank The Red Cell at 8 February 2018

  8. Transparency around funding is clearly long overdue at the Brexit thinktank. But why exactly are both Dr Rotherham and Sir Bill seemingly unwilling to be open and responsive about The Red Cell and its funding?

Fake doctor’s endorsement in national newspaper ad

  1. On 8 November 2017, I saw an unclear and opaque ad in the Daily Mirror newspaper. It was for Nytric EFX, a food supplement that allegedly improves “sexual performance” in men: Daily Mirror 8 Nov 2017. The advertiser identified itself as Stirling Health Ltd. I complained to the company about two issues in the ad. In each case its response was unsatisfactory. So I then complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s regulator of advertising.
  2. The first issue was that both the ad and the Stirling Health website (screen shot in Figure 1) display an endorsement of Nytric EFX by Dr Jack Johnson, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Yet I can’t find him on DoctorFinder when searching by name for Jack Johnson in state Massachusetts. DoctorFinder is the online doctor search tool from the American Medical Association. It includes “virtually every licensed physician in the United States” – “more than 814 000 doctors.”

    Figure 1. Dr Jack Johnson endorses Nytric EFX on Stirling Health website at 14 November 2017

  3. I asked Stirling Health in an email why Dr Jack Johnson, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA isn’t listed on DoctorFinder. Its response was unacceptable. It wrote: “I can confirm the doctors who endorse our products and adverts do not use thier (sic) real names to protect their identity and avoid infulxes (sic) of people trying to contact them, when its (sic) us that can assist witrh (sic) any queries.” As you can see, the response isn’t credible. It’s illiterate too. My reasonable suspicion is Dr Jack Johnson doesn’t exist.
  4. Emily Henwood of the ASA said in an email the company had told the regulator it would no longer use the testimonial from the alleged Dr Jack Johnson in its advertising. This was following involvement of the ASA compliance team.
  5. The second problem with the ad is: wheres Stirling Health Ltd registered, if it’s registered anywhere? There’s no UK-registered company called Stirling Health Ltd, according to Companies House records. The company said in an email “Stirling Health” (note: without the “Ltd”) was registered “in the US”. It told me the registered office address is in Florida, USA. It quoted the Florida address then on the Stirling Health” (again, no “Ltd”) website (https://web.archive.org/web/20170705024734/http://www.stirling-health.net/t/contactus). The company stated it isn’t actually registered in Florida, though, after I pointed out there’s no Florida-registered company called “Stirling Health Ltd” or “Stirling Health,” according to the official register at Sunbiz (http://dos.myflorida.com/sunbiz/).
  6. The company refused to disclose where exactly in the USA its registered, explaining in an email it was “confidential, and commercially sensitive” information. Again, the response would be laughable, if wasn’t so serious. Any legitimate business would be happy to both disclose its name and say where it’s registered. Both pieces of information should be public. In short, is Stirling Health Ltd a genuine company? If so, where exactly in the USA is it registered? It’s not enough to simply say “in the US”.
  7. The ASA’s response on this point was disappointing: the regulator wouldn’t be taking it further, said Ms Henwood in an email. She added: “The Code [the CAP Code] states that marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. For marketing communications that quote prices for advertised products, material information includes the identity (for example, a trading name) and geographical address of the marketer. While we appreciate your concern that it isn’t clear where the company is registered, we note that the advertisers have included a trading name and contact details for consumers to get in contact with them. Given this, we consider that the ad is unlikely to mislead consumers on the basis that you suggest and does not break the rules.”
  8. At date of publication the Stirling Health website continues not to disclose where the company is registered. One change, though: the Florida address has disappeared. It now specifies an address in central London: 88-90 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8PG (https://web.archive.org/web/20180206063513/http://www.stirling-health.net/t/contactus). This is merely the address of a virtual office, you won’t be surprised to learn.
  9. A fake limited company flogging dubious “health products” from national newspaper ads, and hiding behind a virtual office address – it reminds me of Health Broadcast Ltd, a firm I first wrote about on 15 August 2017. Private Eye recently reported my linked exposés of national newspaper ads by that fake limited company for “detox foot patches” (see last post).
  10. Oh, this isn’t the first time a Stirling Health Ltd ad for Nytric EFX has come to the attention of the ASA. In 2010, the regulator banned one of its ads for misleading health claims (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/7195031/Advert-for-pills-that-guaranteed-sex-life-of-you-dreams-is-banned.html). It isn’t just on Health Broadcast Ltd where the Mirror continues to fail its readers, therefore. How much or how little due diligence did the newspaper do on the latest Stirling Health Ltd ad for Nytric EFX?
  11. Further evidence of how little: the Mirror’s excellent Andrew Penman wrote about Stirling Health Ltd in his column ten years ago, when the ASA again censured several, not just one, of its ads for misleading health claims (https://www.mirror.co.uk/opinion/money-opinion/p-s-investigates/triple-dose-of-health-rubbish-from-guernsey-534213).