Falkirk charity Open Secret denies wrongdoing as chairman quits

Open secret chief executive Janine Rennie says accusations of wrongdoing are false. Picture: Michael Gillen (141550)
Open secret chief executive Janine Rennie says accusations of wrongdoing are false. Picture: Michael Gillen (141550)

Falkirk Council has blocked referrals of victims of childhood abuse to a support group over concerns about its staff and funding.

It comes as the Scottish Government agreed to support a council investigation of the charity because of its own concerns.

Bruce Hotchkies is stepping down as chairman of the Open Secret abuse support group

Bruce Hotchkies is stepping down as chairman of the Open Secret abuse support group

Open Secret, which is based in Falkirk’s Thornhill Road, came under further pressure this week following revelations that its chairman, volunteer Bruce Hotchkies (45), a local businessman, is the singer in a shock rock band called Thunderf**k, whose songs include lyrics about violence against women.

Chief Executive Janine Rennie told The Falkirk Herald that Mr Hotchkies had announced that he would resign from his post and the board last night (Wednesday).

The charity has also defended claims of mismanagement saying complaints are “completely unfounded” with no evidence to back them up.

Falkirk Council and now the Scottish Government are carrying out a review into the charity following financial and staffing concerns by some of the charity’s staff.

The council confirmed that referrals to the charity are temporarily suspended after a number of “significant issues” were raised by both staff and a service user.

One of the complaints made to the council centred on Mr Hotchkies.

Due to the nature of the charity, which counsels victims of childhood abuse, his role as chairman and frontman of the rock group was condemned by MSP Christina McKelvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Government’s Cross Party Group on Men’s Violence Against Women and Children, which Open Secret is a member of.

She said his ongoing involvement with Open Secret was “inconceivable”.

Chief executive Janine Rennie said: “As a result of the concerns Bruce will resign as chairman for the good of the charity. It still has to be confirmed to the board.”

Mr Hotchkies said: “I do not condone violence of any sort. The material of the band is meant to be a parody, a reflection on society, which opens these issues up for discussion and into the open.”

Mrs Rennie also said the issues raised in the council complaint, which sparked the review, have “no merit”.

She added: “The complaints were about us paying staff a day early, simply because one of the complainers asked to us to help them; using money from Falkirk Council to provide services for other parts of Scotland which we don’t because all the money from Falkirk stays in Falkirk and we have evidenced this; us giving a pay rise to staff when they hadn’t had one for five years and other attacks that are completely unfounded.

“We have documentation to back all of this up and the only reason the Scottish Government is now involved in the review is based on the factually incorrect information the council is working from over this grievance.

“The council also say we are not co-operating with them, but the only thing we are withholding is the case files of our clients which we would never show to anyone.

“We are unhappy at how the council has treated all the evidence we have shown them and will take our concerns to the Ombudsman if and when necessary.

“We are very disappointed at this whole situation and are very concerned about the affect it could have on our clients. No one seems to care about their welfare through all of this.”

The council says referrals to Open Secret have been stopped until its concerns can be “fully explored”.

A spokesman added: “Appropriate alternative arrangements have been put in place on an interim basis to ensure that any new people who require support are able to receive this.”

“The decision to reduce funding to Open Secret over the next two years came after it became clear from information provided by Open Secret themselves that council funding was being used to meet the core costs of the organisation that was providing services across the whole of Scotland rather than just to Falkirk Council area residents.

“During the consideration of an initial review, a number of other significant issues about the organisation were raised with us by both staff of the organisation and a service user.

“The nature of these concerns led to our elected members asking for a full, comprehensive and independent review. The Scottish Government which is also a funder of Open Secret has confirmed they would wish to jointly commission this independent review.

“We are also aware of uncertainties about current staffing arrangements with the organisation and until these are clarified, we are advising our staff to temporarily stop referrals to the organisation.

“We are urging Open Secret to co-operate fully with the review in order that our concerns can be fully explored.”