The proceedings began on 11 October, and have now been adjourned until January. Thornhill is accused of engaging in “conduct that is likely to bring the profession into disrepute, compromising professional independence and/or accepting monies that led to a compromise of professional independence; Compromising professional standards and Accepting instructions when professionally embarrassed”.
Thornhill’s troubles began when he became involved with Raleigh Ltd., a registered charity. The charity lent half a million pounds to a subsidiary company, which in turn gave the money to Thornhill to invest. The QC invested in a waste management company. The investment came with sizeable tax incentives.
When the charity received no money back, the Charity Commission ordered Thornhill to pay the money back. Raleigh Ltd. Continued to cover for Thornhill insisting that Thornhill was repaying the money, but the Charity Commission discovered that they hadn’t recovered a cent. Finally forced to pay up, when Thornhill’s first cheque for £75,000 arrived, it bounced.
This isn’t the first time Thornhill has been the centre of controversy. Labour’s tax avoidance firebrand Margaret Hodge once labelled Thornhill as one of “the guys who prostitute themselves to these schemes”. Responding to Hodge, Thornhill called her claim “outrageous”.
Raleigh, the charity in question, has been chastised in the past by the Charity Commission for an “extremely low” level of charitable activity. The charity was founded by businessman Joseph Ackerman who designated a large chunk of fortune for charitable enterprises. Ackerman caused a scandal when, subsequent to his charitable pledge, he siphoned off £75m from the charity to prop up his ailing business empire.
The debt Thornhill owed Raleigh has been repaid, but notably he only repaid half. Another Ackerman family company cleared the account. The conjecture is that this was done to avoid the Charity Commission further investigating the charity’s financial affairs.
It hasn’t worked and the Charity Commission is now peeling back the layers on the story. It seems Thornhill is set to be the first victim of a burgeoning scandal.