Comic Relief whistle-blower says Fleet Street ignored 'bombs, booze and fags' investments story

The man who uncovered Comic Relief's investment in "bombs, booze and fags" said he tried to tell the national press the same story four years ago.

Speaking to Press Gazette, Andrew Goodwill said he was looking through the charity’s annual report when he noticed the unethical investments.

The charity has been placing money in managed funds in the city in the sector described as “booze, bombs and fags”.

Goodwill, who appeared in the BBC Panorama expose, told Press Gazette: “I tried to highlight this issue four years ago. I went to the News of the World and they assured me they were going to splash on the story.

“Then, on the Saturday they put a call into Comic Relief and 20 minutes later a very well-connected and high-profile public relations company called, and the story never appeared. 

"I went to several other newspapers after the story failed to appear in the News of the World. I contacted the Mirror and The Daily Mail. I emailed The Guardian and The Independent. 

"Either directly or indirectly I approached everyone on Fleet Street."

Goodwill, from Bognor Regis, previously developed a method of countering credit card fraud. 

"I was chatting to one BBC journalist who told me the story was absolutely amazing but utterly toxic. I had all of the evidence needed to run the story but the News of the World decided against it. 

"Any other paper I approached initially thought the story was great, but when it came to publication day, the story never appeared. There was something out there preventing publication."

Goodwill said eventually the Sunday People approached him and ran part of the story, in August of this year.

When BBC Panorama started investigating the charity sector journalists from the programme filmed Goodwill as part of the programme.

However, once again, Goodwill feared outside forces were preventing the programme's transmission.

According to Goodwill, Comic Relief needs to be far more transparent when it comes to how they use the public’s money.

“For me, the issue of investing in arms, tobacco and drinks companies is secondary to the very fact they are placing money in managed funds. They are gambling the public’s money on the stock market without giving adequate notice.

“Comic Relief is holding money in contingency to cover potential losses caused by their investments. People are not shaving their heads in order to mitigate potential risk on stock market investments, they want to help children.

“The organisation behind Comic Relief has continued to grow and it needs massive funding. They say that all the money goes to the needy but they are not clear about the journey that money takes.

“Now, since I discovered their investment strategy they no longer include the details on their annual reports. This is not ‘their’ money, it is the public’s.

“That’s why they have changed their reports. What they are doing is morally wrong. I always said that on the programme when you ask people for money, you have to tell them what you are going to do with the money.

“My intention was never to ruin Comic Relief. I do feel it has grown too big and unaccountable.”

Goodwill said he was not happy by the way the BBC delayed broadcasting the Panorama documentary exposing Comic Relief – which aired on Monday this week.

His investigation into the charity's accounts found the charity had invested £630,000 in BAE Systems in 2009, along with £3 million in tobacco and a further £300,000 in alcohol shares. 

"I was afraid they were going to pull it once again at the last minute."

New BBC director general Tony Hall was forced in October to assure a parliamentary committee that the documentary was going to be broadcast. 

The charity has raised more than £900 million in almost 30 years however, approximately £100 million of this is invested in the financial markets

Comic Relief has defended its investment policy: "To fulfil our legal obligation, Charity Commission guidelines are clear that charities are required to maximise returns on money in their care. For Comic Relief, because the range of issues we support is so broad, ethical screening would significantly limit our ability to invest as well as seriously increase financial risk.

"Therefore ethical screening would have left us unable to meet both our legal and moral obligation to maximise returns and look after the money in our care with an appropriate level of risk. Instead we put the money into large managed funds, like many other leading charities and pension funds. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people.

"This policy has achieved strong returns over the years, which have helped Comic Relief cover its running costs, without having to use any of the money donated directly by the public. This is a complex area, with many important considerations, and we keep it under constant review."

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