A piece in today’s Telegraph, emphases ours:
Britain’s best known domestic violence charity is in turmoil over the appointment of a woman who runs a weapons technology company as its new chairman.
The senior management team at Refuge are demanding the resignation of Hetti Barkworth-Nanton over her role as chief executive of a Ministry of Defence spin-off company that has developed silent ammunition, hand grenades and a new type of explosive.
In a whistle-blowing letter, seen by The Daily Telegraph, senior Refuge staff warned that her appointment would damage the “reputation and financial well-being” of the charity.
Mrs Barkworth-Nanton is the chief executive of Ploughshare Innovations Ltd, based at Porton Down in Wiltshire, which sells “defence and security technologies” developed in MoD laboratories.
It sells licences for technologies including improved “insensitive” munitions with “higher performance”; low-noise captive ammunition; a stand-off breaching grenade; and a stronger steel armour for assault vehicles.
Mrs Barkworth-Nanton became involved as a domestic violence campaigner after Joanna Simpson, her best friend and a mother of two, was battered to death with a claw hammer by British Airways pilot Robert Brown, her estranged husband.
The Duchess of Cornwall was moved to tears when Mrs Barkworth-Nanton spoke movingly of her friend’s death at an event in 2016.
Refuge staff, however, say her involvement in the arms trade is incompatible with a domestic violence charity that abhors violence.
They also accuse her of not being a feminist and of trying to “impose radical change” on a charity “at the height of its reputation”.
In a private report, seen by The Telegraph, Dame Stella Rimington, the former MI5 head and a former Refuge trustee, criticised its board for appointing Mrs Barkworth-Nanton without making “more effort to keep the management team on side” and failing to appreciate the extent of the risk caused.
It is not clear how the charity’s numerous patrons and celebrity supporters – including Cherie Blair, Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Patrick Stewart – regard the new chairman.
Mrs Barkworth-Nanton was appointed chief executive of Ploughshare in April this year and then announced as chairman of Refuge in June.
Behind the scenes, senior Refuge staff tried to block her appointment.
In the letter sent to Dame Stella, they wrote: “The standing of Refuge, which protects some of the most vulnerable people in society, would be damaged, in our view, amongst service users, high profile patrons, stakeholders, funders and the public at large by the association with a company that licences defence technologies.”
Senior staff first raised concerns in April, claiming in their letter that the new chairman had said that if the management team did not fully support her, they should “step down”.
In a report into the complaint, Dame Stella expressed her concern about the damage done to Refuge. She said: “The strength of anti-violence views in the sector makes it likely that there would be a significant adverse reaction to the appointment as chairman of Refuge of the chief executive of Ploughshare, even though some may not fully understand what the company does.”
Dame Stella concluded that it was “unfortunate” that the charity’s board of trustees confirmed the appointment “some days” before a meeting was held with the senior management team who were protesting at the plan.
She concluded in her report that the trustees had “properly concluded that a risk exists” to the charity’s reputation and that it would have managed the risk better had it listened to the advice of its senior managers.
According to postings on Glass Door, a website on which employees rate their workplaces, staff have begun posting their concerns about Mrs Barkworth-Nanton, complaining that in a meeting with all staff, she allegedly defended her position with Ploughshare Innovations by claiming that modern weapons instead of “blowing up an entire village the weapons would only blow up part of it”. She also claimed not to be a feminist.
In one post earlier this month an employee complained: “It is heartbreaking to hear the newly appointed chair Hetti is a non-feminist and is CEO of company that sells weapon. I feel this is unforgivable.”
Another wrote: “I’m shocked by the appointment. She is CEO of Ploughshare Innovations, which develops weaponry. Refuge is about anti-violence!
“Hetti also openly says she isn’t a feminist – a core value of Refuge’s.”
A statement issued on behalf of the board of trustees last night said Mrs Barkworth-Nanton was appointed “following a robust and competitive process” and brought “deep knowledge and experience” in working to tackle domestic violence.
It said: “The board unanimously agree that Hetti is an exceptional chair for Refuge, its service users, and employees. Whilst the appointment of the chair is, as a matter of law, exclusively a board decision, the board did consult the chief executive in respect of the appointment prior to the decision being taken.
“After the board had taken its decision to appoint Hetti, the concerns of her recent appointment at Ploughshare were raised.
“These concerns were taken seriously and fully considered. The board undertook further due diligence, external advice, and consulted respected individuals working within the sector. It was noted that her new role did not limit her ability to provide strong governance, expertise and guidance to Refuge as chair.”
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