BHS promises better communication after vote of no confidence fails

Passions ran high at a British Horse Society (BHS) general meeting, held on Tuesday 11 June, which was called to discuss and decide upon a vote of no confidence.

A total of 42 BHS members put forwards the vote of no confidence in the chair, board of trustees and the former chief executive Lynn Petersen, who resigned from the post in March.

The resolution was not carried, with 4,651 voting against and 829 in favour. The BHS has more than 108,000 members and this was the highest turnout for one of the charity’s general meeting votes in “modern history”.

BHS chairman David Sheerin told those present he was “deeply saddened” that it had come to this point.

“After the meeting, we will be focused on what the future looks like for all of us,” he said.

The meeting opened with finance director Duncan Snook reading a letter from the Charity Commission stating the regulator had closed its case involving the BHS that day (11 June).

The letter encouraged transparency from the BHS, but accepts the charity is keeping members informed and has taken on board the commission’s points, particularly regarding mediation with parties involved.

The commission also encouraged transparency from the BHS, but concluded that it was “totally assured the charity has fully co-operated” with it.

This led to questions over why the chairman’s letter to members dated 17 May stated the BHS “is not and has not been at any point under investigation” by the Charity Commission.

BHS chairman David Sheerin confirmed at the meeting and again to H&H today (12 June) that the charity is not and has not been under investigation.

He explained when someone makes a complaint to the Charity Commission, a case is opened — which is what happened with the BHS — and the society has been “in regular dialogue with the commission following this.

“A case had been opened, the Charity Commission is our regulatory body, so in effect all charities are under scrutiny at all times and we need to abide by the [rules] that we do,” Mr Sheerin told H&H after the meeting.

During the meeting, members also raised discussion over the governance of the society, wish for more transparency, and allegations surrounding treatment of certain staff and volunteers.

After the meeting, Mr Sheerin told H&H the BHS has followed the processes it has in place for these situations, and that these allegations have been investigated and followed through.

Points were also brought up surrounding the need to remember the history of the BHS, including the hard work by its long-serving members and past leaders. The importance of acknowledging and celebrating volunteers was also raised.

A statement from Mr Sheerin circulated with the vote results on 12 June said the board is “grateful for the support of members who voted against the resolution”.

“[It] will continue to carry out the great work the charity is recognised for,” he added.

“In so doing, the society will continue to engage and listen to all of its members, employees, volunteers, key stakeholders and supporters in order that we best meet the needs of horses and all who care for them.”

For more on the meeting and what will happen next, don’t miss next week’s issue of Horse & Hound — out Thursday, 20 June.