By Russell Findlay
A charity that fights wrongful convictions has had its National Lottery funding stopped and is being probed by the Scottish Government over concerns about how it is run.
The Miscarriage of Justice Organisation – known as MOJO – was awarded £120,000 by the lottery’s community fund but the offer has been withdrawn.
A National Lottery Community Fund spokesperson said: “Due to ongoing governance issues, we are unable to provide MOJO with funding at this time. We welcome a further conversation with them once these issues have been addressed.
“The decision to offer the award of £120,000 was made in April 2019. Our formal withdrawal letter was issued this week.”
Glasgow-based MOJO was formed by Paddy Hill, one of six men wrongly convicted of the IRA pub bombings in Birmingham in 1975.
MOJO is due to receive £105,000 of taxpayers’ money from the Scottish Government this year with at least as much agreed for each of the next two years.
The government’s criminal justice division has begun an investigation, with a spokesman saying: “The Scottish Government provides funding to MOJO Scotland to provide support to people who may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.
“Concerns have been raised with us about their governance and management structures, which are currently subject to an investigation.”
Hill launched the charity in 2001 and it is run by volunteers and two paid employees. One of them, Paul McLaughlin, is on sick leave. He declined to comment.
Management committee member Colin Grant said: “It’s got to the stage now where I think MOJO has possibly gone too far, I think it’s possibly imploded so much it may well be beyond salvation.
“My understanding is that a charity which is receiving public funds needs to have an independent management committee to oversee how these funds are being used to make sure they are being used properly and at the moment there isn’t a functioning management committee there.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie MSP, a MOJO director since 2011, didn’t respond to an STV News interview request.
Governance issues arose in April when volunteer and “head of legal” Euan McIlvride attempted to change the charity’s constitution.
Management committee members, including company secretary and director Billy McAllister, blocked the move and called for independent legal advice.
McAllister also raised concerns about whether it would be appropriate to offer paid employment to McIlvride due to a previous conviction for embezzlement while working as a solicitor.
Three new directors were appointed – including Hill’s partner Tara Babel – and McAllister was voted out while on holiday.
Grant said after the April meeting “all hell broke loose”, adding: “Billy, who has been a director of the organisation and secretary, was summarily dismissed without any consultation [and] the co-project manager Paul McLaughlin was effectively demoted.
“The lottery funding which we’d been promised was stopped. The lottery fund decided to not give us any more money because of the problems we were having within the organisation structurally.
“The Scottish Government have now launched an investigation into how MOJO is being run and none of that was communicated to the management committee – we all learned this from outside sources.”
McIlvride told STV News McAllister was removed “entirely in compliance with the relevant legislation” and because of “serious failures and misconduct in the exercise of his roles… and for separate misconduct in the form of bullying and intimidation of staff and volunteers in the organisation”.
He added: “It is entirely untrue to suggest, as you appear to do, that Mr McAllister was removed as a result of his raising concerns about myself. My entire history was disclosed to MOJO… in advance of my volunteering with the organisation.”
McAllister, who denies the allegations, said: “I think they saw me as the main instigator to getting the concerns raised and they went after me. I have been forced out without any due process and I feel bitter about that because I’ve given seven or eight years of my time for nothing.
“As a famous football manager once said, there’s no man bigger than the club and I think I said that to them – the organisation was bigger than any one person.
“I would like MOJO to return to how it was… an open, democratic and accountable structure.”
Grant added: “One of the most ironic things about MOJO is that it was set up to try and provide victims of miscarriage of justice with a voice and yet the way it’s been behaving with regard to Billy McAllister and Paul McLaughlin shows that it doesn’t actually practise what it preaches because it’s denied them justice.”
Hill also declined to be interviewed but in a statement said McIlvride “made no secret” of his conviction and called him “honest and reliable”.
He added: “As far as our clients are concerned, many have expressed their gratitude for all of Mr McIlvride’s efforts in helping them and have confidence in the work he is undertaking on their behalf.”
McIlvride was convicted of fraud and embezzlement but some charges were later overturned on appeal.
He said: “Given that I spent a period of time in prison as a result of miscarriage of justice, I personally think that my experience is one which enhances my suitability for the role that I exercise with this organisation.”
A campaigner fighting to overturn a high-profile murder conviction has accused MOJO of betraying potential miscarriages of justice victims.
Dr Sandra Lean said it was “really exciting” when MOJO asked to get involved with Luke Mitchell case two years ago.
Mitchell was jailed for the 2003 murder of Jodi Jones, 14, but continues to protest his innocence.
Lean said: “It was really exciting news. It looked like the case was getting picked up again, it looked like there was going to be some real progress here.”
However, last month Mitchell’s mother Corinne blasted MOJO for “doing nothing” since taking on her son’s case and recovered his case files from their office.
Lean told STV News: “Part of the problem was the promises being made were not being kept. The case review itself was something of a farce. There was no central strategy. There was no planned route to how this review was going to take place.
“The idea of having the Luke Mitchell case, this huge case on their books, was good publicity for them.”
The campaigners say that the alleged failings may have harmed Mitchell’s case.
Lean added: “I was going to say it’s a disaster but if they’re not doing the work, they’re giving false hope to people and that, in the circumstances these people are in, that it shocking, that is dreadful.
“I believe that some real damage has been done. There are a couple of things that should have been acted on very quickly, that were not and in spite of a number of promptings, a number of questions, a number of attempts to get something done, there just didn’t seem to be the will to do what needed doing and some of that now means that routes forward that should have been available may no longer be available.”
In response, McIlvride said: “We are aware of the criticism recently levelled at us by Mrs Corrine Mitchell.
“We do not consider it justified, but would not propose to rehearse the arguments in the context of what is, essentially, an unwarranted attack on myself, and, worse, the charity, by parties who are motivated to do us harm.”