Trustees at the Rigpa Fellowship, Patrick Gaffney and Susan Burrows have been banned by the Charity Commission following a two year investigation by the regulator.
The Rigpa Fellowship is a charity set up in 1979 by Sogyal Lakar to advance Buddhist teaching in the UK. Lakar served as the charity’s spiritual director until August 2017 when he ‘’retired’’ due to safeguarding concerns. He died in August 2019.
Allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse by Lakar emerged in August 2017 after one of his former pupils published an online letter. It was alleged that Lakar would “coerce, intimidate and manipulate” female students into sexual relationships with him.
As a result of the allegations the Rigpa Fellowship commissioned an independent inquiry which was prepared by the law firm Lewis Silkin. The report was completed in August 2018 and concluded that some pupils “had been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse” by Lakar, and that “there were some senior individuals within the charity who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”
The investigation by the Charity Commission found that Gaffney and Burrows had ignored or minimised earlier allegations against Lakar. They had been aware of allegations against Lakar since a lawsuit in the US in 1994. They did not report the allegations to the regulator and sought to down play the seriousness of the allegations.
The Commission also raised concerns about the handling of cash after one trustee withdrew £12,000 from the charity’s bank account and gave the money to a staff member to use for covering expenses.
Gaffney was disqualified from sitting on any charity board for the next eight years. Burrows was disqualified from taking up any other trustee position for life.
The Rigpa Fellowship issued a statement in response to the Commission’s findings which accepted that “historically there was mismanagement and misconduct in the administration of Rigpa UK. The Trustees acknowledge and sincerely apologise for the hurt and pain of the eight complainant students.”
The Charity Commission acknowledged that The Rigpa Fellowship had cooperated fully with their investigation and that current Fellowship Trustees had “adopted new safeguarding policies and procedures to better safeguard the charity’s beneficiaries.”
The Charity Commission has increasingly focused on matters relating to sexual abuse within charities and it is likely to continue to actively do so.