AN Oxford City Council employee was previously a senior figure at a racial justice charity which was been censured for 'conflicts of interest and unbalanced research'.

Rotherham-based charity Just West Yorkshire was founded in 2007, and was wound up late last year, before the findings of a Charity Commission investigation.

The Commission found that Just West Yorkshire produced reports that 'did not appear to properly consider the charity’s purpose or the need for balance.

A former director of the charity, Nadeem Murtuja, now Executive Director for Communities and Customer at Oxford City Council, said the Commission had 'misinterpreted' the findings of one of the charity’s reports, but added that he 'respects' the Commission’s viewpoint.

Just West Yorkshire produced regular reports and newsletters on racial justice issues.

ALSO READ: Man denied furlough support by council-owned company

The Commission began investigating the charity in early 2018 after complaints about two of their reports.

One called ‘Rethinking Prevent: a case for an alternative approach’ looked at the controversial Prevent de-radicalisation programme used in schools.

On this report the Commission’s report says it was 'not clear how the research was balanced to take into account differing views' and contained quotes from two individuals which 'could be considered to support extreme views'.

The other ‘A Temperature Check report (Understanding and assessing the impact of Rotherham MP, Sarah Champion’s comments in the Sun Newspaper on 10 August 2017)’ referred to the Labour MP’s comments about grooming gangs and ethnicity.

The MP for Rotherham wrote in the Sun in 2017 that the UK had 'a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls'.

The comments proved controversial, and the report looked into the aftermath.

Referring to this report, the Commission says: “The report discusses at length two instances which predate the comments and appear to be unrelated to the objectives of the report. These are two murders, a Rotherham man (August 10, 2015) and Jo Cox MP (June 16, 2016). Any suggestion of an association between remarks made by the MP and these murders would appear to be entirely without basis given that both incidents occurred before the MP’s remarks were made.”

Oxford Mail:

Nadeem Murtuja, now an employee at Oxford City Council

The commission said press releases issued by the charity regarding the report did not seem to match what was being said in the actual document. It said: “The report states it is ‘nothing more than a temperature check’ and ‘it is very difficult to assess if the impact of Sarah Champion’s comments has directly resulted in an increase in racism, Islamophobia or community tensions’.

“Yet the charity’s press release did make such conclusions, such as ‘An overwhelming theme was the increase in verbal and physical racist abuse.’”

The investigation also found that two trustees received 'unauthorised payments' from the charity’s funds, with one paid £6,000 to work on the Rethinking Prevent report.

Trustees are not meant to receive any benefit from their charity, unless it is properly authorised and is clearly in their charity’s interests.

Other issued raised by the Commission include concerns that trustees failed to submit trustees annual report, annual return and accounts when required and that “the charity’s political neutrality was called into question by the retweeting of political messages and posts from prominent political figures from one political party.”

In response to the report, Mr Murtuja told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The ‘former trustee’ referred to in receipt of £6,000 was not myself, and nor did I have any official involvement with the charity during the period when that payment was made.

“In April 2017, the new charity trustees recorded a conflict of interest in minutes of a meeting – as noted by the Charity Commission. This was during a period of crisis, it is important to note, that this meeting took place during a period when the Director of the Charity was terminally ill, and died a few months later. At all times I acted in accordance with my obligations as a trustee.

“In relation to the reference in the commissioned report to the climate that resulted in the murders of Jo Cox MP and a local Rotherham man, I fear there has been a misinterpretation of the point the report was seeking to make and that is, unfortunately incendiary comments do incite acts of hate.

“However, I respect the viewpoint of the Charity Commission.”

ALSO READ: 40,000 people in Oxfordshire now rely on coronavirus volunteers

Mish Tullar, a spokesman for Oxford City Council said the authority stood by its appointment of Mr Murtuja.

Mr Tullar said: "Nadeem Murtuja joined Oxford City Council at the beginning of 2020 as Executive Director for Communities and Customer.

"In a previous role, he had led a Yorkshire based charity that campaigned on racial justice issues. While the Charity Commission has questioned aspects of a report the charity issued in 2018 on the impact of Sarah Champion MP’s comments in the Sun Newspaper on the Rotherham community, Nadeem himself was not censured by the Commission.

"He issued a statement saying he respected the Commission’s findings, but said he feared there had been a misinterpretation of the point the report was seeking to make about incendiary comments sometimes inciting acts of hate. He also made clear he was not involved with the charity at the time an allegedly inappropriate payment was made to a trustee.

"In just six months Nadeem has built a track record of bringing different communities together across Oxford. He runs a multi-disciplinary team that runs the Council’s award-winning Youth Ambition programme which supports over 6,000 less advantaged young people in Oxford each year. He has also been central to the Council’s community support response to COVID-19, which has helped thousands of households across the city.

"We are satisfied that our recruitment process for Nadeem’s appointment was both objective and robust, and with our decision to employ him. Nadeem’s contribution to Oxford City Council and to the people of Oxford, is a positive one."

ALSO READ: One-way pavements and no stopping rules in Oxford to lift lockdown

Tim Hopkins, Assistant Director of Investigations and Inquiries at the Charity Commission said it was unacceptable that the trustees of Just Wes Yorkshire 'failed to fully discharge their legal duties.'

He added: “Charity trustees should honour their responsibility and legal duty to act in the best interests of their charity at all times. As shown here, failure to do so can cause irreparable damage to a charity.”

In response to the findings, Rotherham Sarah Champion MP said: “The Charity Commissions report clearly demonstrates that Just West Yorkshire were in breach of their charitable objectives in producing this report. Their reports were not evidence based or reliable and they demonstrated political motivations behind their actions. Furthermore, the Charity Commission investigation outlines serious financial inconsistencies and improprieties."