Shelterbox founder Tom Henderson 'gave son contracts'

Tom Henderson
Image caption Tom Henderson (pictured), his son John and Darren Gervis are on trial at the Old Bailey accused of conspiracy to commit fraud

The "untouchable" founder of the aid charity Shelterbox fraudulently gave contracts to his son and set up sham companies, the Old Bailey has heard.

Tom Henderson, 64, from Helston, and his son John, 35, from Hayle, both in Cornwall, are accused of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Darren Gervis, 42, from Beaminster, Dorset, is accused of trying to conceal John Henderson's involvement once questions were raised.

All three men deny the charges.

The court heard Tom Henderson founded the charity in 2000 in his garage and it grew following the Tsunami of 2004 and the Haiti earthquake two years later.

He was domineering, arrogant and regarded himself "untouchable" because of its success, prosecutor Warren Hornsby said.

The jury was told he had abused his position as founder and chief executive by authorising large supply contracts for his son, paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Shelterbox facts:

  • The disaster relief charity provides emergency shelter and vital supplies to support people hit by disaster and humanitarian crises around the world
  • It distributes items such as a tent, cooking utensils, mosquito nets and water purification equipment to people who have lost their belongings
  • Shelterbox claims to have responded to more than 270 disasters and humanitarian crises in dozens of countries

The Old Bailey was told the charity was forced to bring in new procedures to deal with related party contracts after concerns were raised.

It heard one major donor withdrew her funding and reported Shelterbox to the Charities Commission, after discovering John Henderson allegedly sold 10,000 stoves to the charity for 60% more than he paid for them.

"When questioned by management and the trustees of Shelterbox, John Henderson recruited Darren Gervis to create sham companies to mask his involvement," he said.

"The agreement between the three of them was that John Henderson should be kept as supplier of goods and services to Shelterbox.

"Everything possible was done for this to happen - no matter what objections were raised," Mr Hornsby said.

'Personal fiefdom'

Tom Henderson treated the charity like his own "personal fiefdom", and there were complaints about bullying at Shelterbox and "rumblings or rumours" it was being run "in an incestuous nature", the court was told.

"The board of trustees were in awe of him [Tom Henderson] if not intimidated by him for his role in setting up and driving Shelterbox to the success it has had.

"It led him to think he was untouchable and not subject to restraint," Mr Hornsby told the jury.

The jury was told that in police interviews in June 2013, Tom Henderson denied conspiracy to defraud and said he did not give preferential treatment to his son, but he did accept the odd error of judgement.

The alleged fraud took place between January 2007 and December 2012.

Tom Henderson was appointed OBE in 2010 for services to humanitarian aid. He left the charity in July 2012 and was arrested a year later.

The trial, which is expected to run for 10 weeks, continues.

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