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Wendouree paedophile given top job at UK LGBTQI+ charity

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(Image of Swindon and Wiltshire Pride 2017 parade by Brian Robert Marshall via geograph.org)

A convicted Wendouree paedophile was given the top job at a UK gay charity less than two years after being released from prison. Nathanael Parker reports.

THE BODY that regulates charities in England and Wales has questioned an LGBTQI+ charity after serious concerns were raised over safeguarding.

In January this year, the Charity Commission was forced to step in to assess the safeguarding policies in place at Swindon and Wiltshire Pride, a charity based in Swindon, England.

The investigation, which concluded this (UK) Spring, was initiated after it came to light that a convicted paedophile was placed at the head of Swindon and Wiltshire Pride less than two years after being released from prison.

In 2014, Lee Clarke, from Wendouree, Victoria, was convicted by a court in Ballarat of possessing almost 15,000 images of child pornography.

Judge Frank Gucciardo described the images as "abhorrent" and said Clarke’s offending was "depraved". Clarke pleaded guilty to the charges and was handed a 15-month prison sentence.

After his release, he moved to the United Kingdom and settled in Swindon.

In January 2018, Clarke was made acting chair of Swindon and Wiltshire Pride, a position he held for four months and which made him one of the chief organisers of a popular, family-orientated annual event.

The Charity Commission has this week confirmed that the trustees of Swindon and Wiltshire Pride had to be issued with advice and guidance on safeguarding matters, and the Commission promised to assess any further concerns that may come to light.

A spokesman from the Charity Commission stated in an email:

Our case looked into concerns about an individual who was acting chair of the charity from January 2018 to May 2018.

As part of our engagement, we questioned the trustees and received assurances that the charity has strengthened its policies and procedures around safeguarding. We issued the charity with regulatory advice under section 15(2) of the Charities Act to ensure these are fully adhered to going forward.

Since discovering Clarke’s criminal history, members and friends of the LGBTQI+ community in Swindon have called for answers as to how such a man was able to obtain a position of influence.

A petition, which calls for an investigation into why the proper safeguarding checks were not carried out before Clarke’s appointment, has been signed by more than 260 people.

One member of the LGBTQI+ community, who wished to remain anonymous, said:

I think it’s disgusting that Lee Clarke was allowed to run the charity. Swindon and Wiltshire Pride is a family event and works with organizations providing crucial support to young and vulnerable LGBT people. The necessary background checks were not carried out and, as a result, Mr Clarke, who was convicted for child sex offences, was given access to children and families that he should never have been given.

According to its website, Swindon and Wiltshire Pride is involved with a youth group called Out of the Can, which members of Swindon’s LGBTQI+ community have described as “particularly worrying”.

The charity is sponsored by Nationwide Business Society, Thames Water and Wiltshire Police.

In response, Swindon and Wiltshire Pride confirmed that Lee Clarke was indeed acting chair for four months in early 2018.

In a statement, a spokesman from Pride said:

'When they [Lee Clarke] proposed themselves for this role, they failed to make known any spent/unspent convictions.'

The spokesman added that the charity does not condone Mr Clarke’s previous actions and that they have since put in place 'rigorous safeguarding policies', including 'mandatory DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] checks for all committee members'.

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