in the back
Loose canon
Church News, Issue 1535
canon-white.jpg
Canon Andrew White in Saddam Hussein’s seat
Archbishop Justin Welby is unlucky in his friends. His “charming friend” John Smyth QC turned out to be a serial abuser. His Cambridge mentor Revd Jonathan Fletcher had an excessively disciplined approach towards his younger disciples. Now another of Welby’s personal heroes has been banned from charity management because of his overrelaxed attitude to other people’s cash.

It’s a remarkable fall from grace for Canon Andrew White, aka “The Vicar of Baghdad”, who was once voted No 1 in a poll of the Top 100 UK Christians. But then Canon White is a remarkable man.

White star
If his own account is to be believed, he qualified as an anaesthetist before the age of 21, gaining a PhD along the way. He went on to get a second PhD in theology from Cambridge by the age of 24, followed by a third from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem two years later. Since ordination, he has carved out an extraordinary career as a maverick peacemaker while cultivating friends in high places.

He was married by Archbishop Donald Coggan; his charitable trust was chaired by Archbishop George Carey; and he was given funds by Archbishop Rowan Williams. At the age of just 33, he was headhunted to run the International Centre for Reconciliation (ICR) based at Coventry Cathedral. He threw himself into the Middle East conflict, shuttling between Jerusalem and Gaza. He met often with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Pope John Paul II, and was a friend of MI6 chief John Sawers.

Bagging a job
One vicar in the Coventry diocese was so impressed by his younger colleague that he wrote to ask if he could accompany him “as a bag carrier or anything”. They went together to the Holy Land, and a few months later Justin Welby (for it was he) joined White as co-director of the ICR.

All went well for a couple of years. White’s personality was a magnet for Christian cash, and the centre soon had a staff of almost 20 and budget of more than £1m. But it depended on a small number of wealthy donors. When White decided to move to Iraq, funds for ICR dried up and Welby was left to sack most of the staff.

Baghdaddy
White loved to exploit his reputation as “the Vicar of Baghdad”, rarely pictured without a large bow tie or a flak jacket. Once, reflecting on the 2003 Iraq War, he claimed: “I knew George Bush so well. I did a lot of planning with them for going into Iraq.” His first autobiography includes a picture of him lounging on Saddam Hussein’s gold-plated throne. He signs his books with a pen he claims was used to sign Saddam’s death warrant.

His work attracted money from Christians in the UK and US, which was channelled through his charity, the Naaman Trust. However, in 2010 a Charity Commission inquiry found that the charity’s trustees were failing in oversight of their maverick director.

Among other problems, White had used the trust’s name in America to solicit donations which he said would be used to secure the release of two women who were held hostage by Islamic State.

The trust was wound up, but several of the same trustees then set up the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), chaired by Archbishop George Carey. White continued to serve in Baghdad until Welby ordered him to leave in 2014, when he retired to the safety of his substantial bungalow in Hampshire.

Let us pay
One of White’s mottos is, “We have to pray for peace, and we have to pay for peace”. He continued to pursue this policy at FRRME. In a 2016 email he wrote that donations to the charity “were used specifically for the issue of buying back the women who had been taken as sex slaves by Isis”. Under UK law this is classed as providing finance to a terrorist organisation.

The charity was investigated by the police, but White was not prosecuted, because there was no evidence he had actually paid the ransom.

In June 2016 the foundation suspended White as an employee, telling supporters he had “resigned on health grounds”. He immediately started a new charity, Canon Andrew White Reconciliation Ministries (CAWRM). Around the same time he set up Ace White Gold Ltd, a company with himself as the sole director and shareholder, which claims to trade in commodities, “mainly focusing on oil deals within the Middle East” – but also took thousands of pounds from CAWRM in exchange for “PAYE services”.

Follow the money
Last month the Charity Commission sanctioned trustees of CAWRM for “numerous instances of poor governance and financial controls”. It was shocked to find that “the charity used the personal bank account of its ambassador Canon White to hold charitable funds”, and “trustees were putting the charity’s funds at risk by couriering significant amounts of cash out of the UK”.

White, who accuses the Charity Commission of waging a “demonic campaign”, wrote on his Facebook page two weeks ago that “there has been a very negative response to my work today from the Charity Commission. I know I am doing God’s work for his people, I will not stop it.”

Easier said than done: he has now been banned from any form of charity management or trusteeship for the next 12 years. On the plus side, at least that will give him time to work on another two or three PhDs.

More top stories in the latest issue:

VERY FLY GUYS
Hedge fund managers who had invested in failing airline Flybe are behind a new company that is stepping in to buy the business and brand.

SHORT OF SPACE
The government’s acquisition of a big stake in bust satellite company OneWeb is shaping up to be another scheme that will best be forgotten.

BACKWARDS BRITAIN
A new report from MPs says the UK is trailing other European countries in the standard of care for people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders.

DURHAM DAMNED
An inquest into the death of a Durham prisoner who hanged himself in his cell found poor record-keeping, communication and staff training were all factors.

BUNGS & BARGAINS
RAF aircraft grounded after it lost track of maintenance paperwork have been sold to a charity for a song – along with a £745,000 bung of taxpayers’ money.

PILLAGED IDIOTS
An east London free school failed to notice that school funds were being pillaged for eight months, amid a host of other financial failings.

DEGREES OF SEPARATION
There are clear signs of what universities, facing huge cutbacks and potential financial disaster, are prepared to scrap completely – and what they won’t.

ANCHORS AWAY
After the escape of thousands of salmon from one nearby fish farm, residents of Arran are now fighting a planning application from another fish farmer.

MYTHING LYNX
Newspapers and columnists are boosting new plans to apply to release six wild lynx in Northumberland, despite the Lynx UK Trust’s laughable track record.

PLENTY TO LEARN
An independent report has outlined the shocking treatment of a vulnerable woman with learning disabilities by health services in South Yorkshire.

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