Trouble-hit Leeds charity calls halt to work with young men and boys at risk of sexual exploitation

Mesmac chief executive Tom Doyle.
Mesmac chief executive Tom Doyle.

A Leeds charity has ended its “targeted work” with young men and boys at risk of sexual exploitation after concerns were raised about its safeguarding procedures.

The Charity Commission launched an investigation into Yorkshire Mesmac in March after one of its former trustees was exposed as a paedophile.

Heathcliffe Bowen, who resigned from the charity in 2014, was jailed for five years in January for paying an underage boy for sex and taking part in explicit online chats with other youngsters.

The charity, which describes itself as “one of the oldest and largest sexual health organisations in the country”, was also in the headlines last year following claims that its policies condoned physical relationships between staff and service users.

Now it has emerged that Mesmac had been aware of the allegations against Bowen since at least 2015 but did not report them to the Charity Commission until February this year.

It has also emerged that a number of other “historical incidents” were not flagged up by Mesmac to the Charity Commission until this year.

In a report published today, the Charity Commission said: “Through their actions, the trustees placed the charity and its beneficiaries at undue risk, thereby falling short on important duties around safeguarding and managing risk.”

The report said that Mesmac’s trustees had decided to end their “targeted work with young men and boys at risk of sexual exploitation and [have] made arrangements to ensure a winding down of this service”.

All of the other work done by the charity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will continue as normal.

Tracy Howarth, head of regulatory compliance at the Charity Commission, said: “People have a right to expect that charities are places where they will be protected, so we repeatedly remind trustees that safeguarding should be a governance priority.

“That includes taking steps to ensure no one who comes into contact with their charity suffers distress or harm, and is especially important when working with young people who may be at risk.

“I am encouraged by Yorkshire Mesmac’s progress so far on tightening its safeguarding procedures [and] it is vital that this continues.”

Mesmac chief executive Tom Doyle said today: “We would like to thank the Charity Commission for their help and advice during this difficult time.”

Mr Doyle said the “historical” cases mentioned in the report were three incidents in a period of more than 20 years, none of which involved police action.