Lewisham charity denies signing letter of support for Conservative Party, Tories insist it did

Sybil Phoenix

Sybil Phoenix (left) founded the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust in 1979. Pic: Lewisham Council

A Lewisham charity has denied it is backing the Conservative Party in this general election, as reported by The Telegraph on Monday, saying it did not know it had been included on a list of signatories.

In response to queries from Eastlondonlines, director of the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust Rebecca Long said: “We have been included on the list without our knowledge or consent and have contacted both the Conservative Party and The Telegraph and requested that our organisation be removed from this list immediately.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson called the Trust’s claims “categorically untrue”.

He said: “I can 100 per cent guarantee that the reason they ended up on the letter is because the director or the person who was named as having signed up to it did actually sign up to it.”

The #Lettergate hashtag currently trending on Twitter concerns an alleged Tory deception where a number of fake signatures, duplicate names and dissolved companies appeared on the list of signatories to a letter from 5,000 “small businesses” expressing support for Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne.

The hashtag has been tweeted over 2,300 times in the past 24 hours.

In a statement, the charity said: “The Trust is a very small charity and not a small business. It should not and should never appear on any list of political endorsements such as the one published in The Telegraph of apparent owners of small businesses. We do not and have not made any such political endorsement today or at any other time.”

It added that no one at the charity has been authorised to sign such a document, and the named signatory – an employee – has confirmed she has not been approached to sign the letter as a small business owner.

“We believe our and her inclusion on this list is some sort of error.”

When asked, a Charities Commission spokesperson said it had been told that a representative from the Trust was included as a signatory to yesterday’s letter.

“Signing a letter in support of a political party is not a legitimate activity for a charity,” said the spokesperson, calling the Trust’s moves to have itself removed from the list “the right course of action”.

The Commission will be contacting the Trust to establish the facts and remind the trustees of its guidance. It does not expect to take any further regulatory action.

“Charities may engage in political activities in furtherance of their political purposes. But charities must not give support to a political party or candidate,” said the spokesperson.

The Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust is a supported housing project for single homeless women aged 16 to 25 that operates two hostels in Brockley and New Cross.

Founded by Sybil Phoenix MBE in 1979, the charity assists residents to acquire life skills and to become independent in the community.

Additional reporting by Katharina Schöffmann and David Blood.

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