POLICE CONFIRM "WITCH HUNT" AGAINST FOUNDER OF WOODLAND BURIAL TRUST. - June 2017.
Following an investigation Durham Constabulary have partially upheld a complaint made by Ian Rutland. They also confirmed what appears to have been a malicious "witch hunt" against the founder of the WBT by a small group of individuals.
Ian Rutland said "I am pleased my vision and hard work to establish Durham's first community woodland cemetery will continue under the local authority. The woodland environment and lodge was regarded a valuable asset to the region".
There is currently a complaint of 'maladministration' against Durham County Council under investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman concerning the local authorities actions over the demise of the original project.
FORMER BURIAL TRUST MEMBERS HOPE TO RESURRECT PROJECT AS POLICE INVESTIGATION INTO FORMER DIRECTOR CONCLUDES
25 Jan 2017 / Rachel Conner, Reporter Northern Echo (Durham)
FORMER members of a woodland burial trust, which went into liquidation last year, are hoping to resurrect the project after the founder was cleared of any wrongdoing by police.
The Durham Woodland Burial Trust (WBT) was the UK's first community owned woodland cemetery, based at Durham Crematorium, in South Road, Durham. The business collapsed last year, prompting allegations against the trust's founder and former director Ian Rutland. Following a police inquiry, Mr Rutland, has been completely exonerated.
Last night Ian said: "It was good news to hear following a long and intensive investigation Durham Police have decided not to pursue any complaint. It has been a stressful time for both myself and my family, nevertheless, we remained positive simply because of the knowledge I was innocent of all allegations.
“However, I did admit to the police that the back office could have been organised more efficiently. However, I am battling a disability which has a severe and adverse affect on my daily well-being.
"I worked 14 years developing the concept of a community woodland cemetery in Durham. I put my heart, soul and money into the development of a unique environment at South Road. This environment was reflected in the positive feedback received from the families and funeral directors using the cemetery. All considered it an asset for our region as the burial of individuals were conducted from across the UK. Many families also opted for the personalised service of remembrance we conducted in the woodland lodge."
"Due to the development of a number of internal issues beyond my control. The implementation of a new business plan helped to turn finances around and begin the process of stabilisation. Following my resignation I am deeply saddened the WBT staff discontinued it's development and opted for administration."
THE WOODLAND BURIAL TRUST INSOLVENCY - BY IAN RUTLAND
My vision in 2002 was to develop a woodland burial site to meet the needs of Durham County. The project would help any experiencing bereavement and support those facing financially difficulties. During our time we conducted two zero cost funerals where families struggled with the funeral costs.
In 2008 with the full support of Durham City Council a site was identified and work started on the glades. Work was suspended in 2009 by Durham County Council while a review of Bereavement Services was conducted. In February 2012 the local authority agreed to progress and I applied and was awarded a Big Society loan of £60,000 to help with ground works and footpath construction. The project had been offered a grant by the previous City Council, however, Durham County Council declined to reciprocate this offer. During the suspension period the structure of the organisation also changed into a cooperative ensuring the project had a solid community grounding and was not owned by one individual. The WBT was the first community run woodland cemetery in the UK.
The formal opening of the WBT was planned for September 2012. The launch was attended by many including TV, radio and local authority managers. Later in September our first funeral was booked for the beginning of October 2012. However two days before the funeral the local authority decided to again suspend all operations including the funeral. The reason for this sudden intervention was to allow them re-negotiate our lease and enforce a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for grave digging and ground maintenance. These services were sourced and a budget allocated for them in our original business plan utilising outside agencies and volunteers. During the next six month the WBT lost the momentum gained from the launch and other business opportunities. Following the second suspension the local authority implemented a new lease linked to a SLA agreement resulting in 41% of WBT income or £620/funeral going to the council.
During the suspension work continued on building our lodge with a loan from myself of £20,000. Trying to launch a business during a recession was difficult, no support was received from the banks, and all initial expenditure had to be placed on my credit cards. At times I was paying over £500/month interest on these cards helping to support the project.
Business eventually started again in May 2013 and Interments were conducted with families travelling from as far as Essex, Manchester and North Yorkshire to Durham. My health started to deteriorate resulting in the need to rely more on the good will of volunteers. Our original supporters had moved on and new individuals offered help in return for expenses. In January 2015 I conducted a basic accounting procedures and discovered over £26,000 had been claimed in expenses during our short trading period. These sums again had not been envisaged in our original plan. It was clear in December 2014 the project was not meeting its financial projections and action was required to reduce outgoings and find an alternative to the crippling local authority SLA.
In January 2015 I started working on a new business plan addressing the expenditure and trying to maximise income. For example there was not necessary to pay a book keeper to duplicate the work of our accountant. There was also no need to have a full time grounds operative and guardians were asked to consider expenses of £10/hour instead of £15/hour they claimed. My proposal was not popular with a small nucleus resulting in their threat of mass resignation. While work was taken to maintain a service my two directors resigned leaving only myself as sole director. At this point I intended to call a full extraordinary general meeting however, I was persuaded by staff to wait until our full AGM in September. Work would continue with this group creating a steering group helping to manage the project over the summer period. These arrangements seemed to go well until June 2015 when I missed one of our regular staff meetings due to illness. I received minutes of this meeting only to discover a number of issues including their real intentions. The minutes included this statement:
“It was also felt that relations between the group and IR had broken down to a point where a vote of 'no confidence' should be sought at a special general meeting to be held 3 weeks from today. JO and KT will seek to obtain the membership register this week. JO is due to meet with IR and it should be handed over to her. If this does not happen then arrangements will be made to obtain it with help from the appropriate authorities if necessary. Members will be written to and asked to attend.” - Minutes of a meeting held on Sunday 28th June at 3.00pm in the Woodla nd Lodge, at 3pm
My relationship with this small group in question started to break down as I pushed ahead with the implementation of our new business plan. The AGM was due and I was keen to present to the full membership an account of our problems. Unfortunately our book keeper refused to return the business laptop and accounts for 2015 resulting in my lack of ability to present full financial information on the year.
During the next month this group made a formal complaint to the local authority regarding their interpretation of inaccurate maps and plots. Complaints were also made to the CIC Regulator in London and Durham Police. The local authority conducted a full audit of the project and apart from a few simple errors in our record keeping all appeared to be in order. The Regulator made a full investigation and found no reason for concern or intervention in the operation of the CIC. In January 2016, I was interviewed by the police and to date no charges have been made.
In November I called our AGM with the intention to stand down and hand over the care of the project to others. Unfortunately our meeting was interrupted by staff who had resigned and others from an alcohol support group not related to the WBT. The AGM was suspended however we agreed to appoint two new independent members to the management group to help and resolve outstanding issues. One of the new members stood down shortly after following a brutal exchange of emails between her and the group in question making the complaints.
Since January 2016 the new business plan turned around the fortunes of the project. Each funeral was now making a profit for the WBT, and without breaching our SLA with the local authority families opted to have graves dug by hand and not with the council mechanised diggers.
I resigned from the WBT in May 2016 leaving the project with over £9000 in our current account.
Following a recent press release and newspaper article it was brought to my attention the project now intends to apply for insolvency? I also gather from a brief exchange of emails the people behind previous difficulties were behind this. There was no need for the project to consider insolvency, when I left it had a viable business plan, money in the bank and an agreement with The Key Fund to reschedule our loan payments. In the past the WBT were tied into regular monthly repayments despite many months would pass without any income. This new arrangement would link future payments to funerals and income which was acceptable to both parties.
The accusations of re-selling plots was misleading. Why would I resell plots when there was over 400 vacant ones. No account taken in these false accusations of members who opted for their cremated remains to be buried. On such occasions one plot could accommodate three of four sets of ashes, and plot numbers would reflect this. Also some individuals who had partners buried had also requested for their cremated remains to be buried in their partners plot. This again will reflect in identical plot numbers. The Northern Echo and Durham Times should have had a duty of care to ensure their news paper article was accurate and fair.
The local authority has a duty of care to ensure the woodland site continues. The project was praised by all and had a reputation for being one of the best woodland cemeteries in the north of England. I thank you all for your kind thank you support over the three year.
Ian Rutland Director (Retired)
"I would like to thank you for your text and there was never any doubt in my mind as to the accusations being made against you. It was a pleasure meeting you Ian and your passion and beliefs were an important part of our decision to bury my brother at The Woodland Burial Trust. I wish you all the best for the future."
News - January 2017.
I am sorry to hear that despite our new business plan and a commitment to continue and develop the work of the WBT the current Directors have opted to liquidated the company.
Despite malicious allegations from a small group of members and a Police investigations no charges have been made against myself. To the contrary I am still owed salary and expenses against my loan to the company.