Trustees of a British charity founded by a disgraced Buddhist guru failed to act on "serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse”, the watchdog has ruled.
The Charity Commission’s investigation into the London-based Buddhist charity, Rigpa Fellowship, concluded that its students were put at risk of harm as a result of serious safeguarding failures.
The watchdog opened a case into the charity when serious allegations of abuse towards its students by the charity’s Spiritual Director, Sogyal Lakar, surfaced.
In 2017 The Telegraph published a series of allegations made by eight senior and long-standing current and former students against Sogyal, whose book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has sold more than three million copies around the world, making him the best known Tibetan Buddhist teacher after the Dalai Lama. Soygal died aged 72 in 2019.
An independent investigation – commissioned by Rigpa Fellowship and Rigpa Fellowship US – found that, on the balance of probabilities, some of Lakar’s “inner circle” were “subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him”.
The Commission’s engagement escalated to a statutory inquiry after it found that the charity was not making sufficient progress in addressing the safeguarding concerns.
Furthermore, during the course of its inquiry, the watchdog disqualified one former trustee, Patrick Gaffney, and removed another trustee, Susan Burrows, after both failed to take appropriate action despite having knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students.
The inquiry concluded that “misconduct and mismanagement” was evidence at the charity, and that both former trustees “failed to recognise or sought to downplay” the seriousness of the allegations, and failed to report incidents of abuse.
Responding to the report, Helen Stephenson CBE, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, said that the watchdog’s findings “make for very difficult reading”.
“The fact that students were subjected to abuse by somebody in a position of power is shameful, and I am appalled that this was able to happen in a charity where people should have felt safe.
“People were let down because senior figures not only failed to listen and act on concerns, but also failed to properly address the problems with the charity’s safeguarding culture once these came to light.
“I hope that our findings bring some comfort to those so badly affected by what went wrong at Rigpa Fellowship. The charity is now a safer place, and that must continue.”
She added: “Charities should be spaces in which all people are free from harm. This is not a tick box exercise. Having the right policies and procedures must be combined with the right cultures, vital to building trust, sending an important signal to everyone connected to a charity that it prioritises keeping people safe.”
A spokesperson for Rigpa UK said: "The Trustees of Rigpa UK accept the Charity Commission’s findings as set out in their Report. We accept that, as set out in the Report, historically there was mismanagement and misconduct in the administration of Rigpa UK.
"On behalf of Rigpa UK, the Trustees acknowledge and sincerely apologise for the hurt and pain of the eight complainant students, and others who have since come forward to raise safeguarding concerns, and for the insufficient safeguarding measures in place in the charity at the time.
"We wish to re-affirm, on behalf of the charity, that we are resolved to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of our students and anyone involved with Rigpa UK is paramount in our organisation."