Coventry & Warwickshire

Warwickshire-based Air Ambulance Service lost £111,000 on Bodyguard tickets

Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance Image copyright bbc
Image caption The air ambulance is funded entirely by public donations

An air ambulance service has been criticised by the Charity Commission after it lost £111,000 by booking tickets for a London musical premiere.

The Warwickshire-based Air Ambulance Service made the booking in 2012 for the stage version of Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard.

It is also accused of making a £27,000 loan to an employee without informing its board until after the event.

The charity said it was ensuring governance was tightened.

'Loud and soupy'

The commission said it had been called to investigate the service, which serves Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, following complaints about "significant losses".

It said the 2012 event, in which the charity bought seats to resell for The Bodyguard, was "poorly planned".

The service said that buying and reselling theatre tickets was "a method of fundraising used by other UK charities".

"Unfortunately the event was not commercially successful due to poorer than anticipated ticket sales," it said.

The Bodyguard received mixed reviews at its West End premiere, with one critic describing it as "loud" and "soupy", although its star, Heather Headley, was praised.

'Ego trips' or fundraising campaigns?

In 2008, Michael Dilks from Kirby Bellars, in Leicestershire, was almost killed in a road accident.

He credits an air ambulance surgeon for saving his life and spent several years raising money for the charity. One event alone raised £11,000, he said.

Mr Dilks said he has become disillusioned with the charity's commercial interests and, although he continues to make a monthly donation, he no longer raises money for them.

"When I raised £11,000, I was very curious as to how much of that went into keeping the air ambulances flying," he said.

"A lot of things done in the name of so-called charity are, in my view, ego trips.

"The crews are amazing and deserve better."

In response, the service said the Charity Commission had best practice guidelines, covering how much of a charity's income could be invested in fundraising campaigns or spent on running costs.

It said it "has always been comfortably within these parameters."

Regarding the loan, the commission said a loan totalling £27,000 was made to a senior employee at the charity.

"It was not clear on what legal basis the loan was made," it said.

Image copyright Press image
Image caption The Bodyguard received mixed reviews at its West End premiere

"We established the loan was put in place by the CEO and the chair. The wider trustee board was only informed after the event. The staff member in question is repaying the loan and payments are up-to-date."

It called on the charity to review its policies.

The service said: "The loan referred to in the report was a one-off and made to a valuable employee facing unforeseen personal circumstances. We have worked closely with the Charity Commission to ensure governance is tightened."

It declined to comment on how many tickets it had bought and failed to sell.

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