Carrie Symonds' zoo charity is probed by watchdog
Carrie Symonds’ zoo charity is probed by watchdog: Officials launch investigation into Prime Minister’s partner’s new employer after revelation that its founder’s son is allowed to live in a sprawling mansion at below-market rates
- Carrie Symonds hired as Head of Communications for The Aspinall Foundation
- The charity is being investigated by the Charity Commission with the probe examining its ‘financial management and wider governance’
- Investigation finds curious commercial relationship with owner Damian Aspinall
Carrie Symonds’ new employer is being investigated by the Charity Commission, it emerged yesterday.
The probe into the Aspinall Foundation, which has hired the Prime Minister’s fiancee as its head of communications, is examining its ‘financial management and wider governance’.
The news follows a Mail investigation into the animal conservation charity, which allows its founder’s son, the gambling tycoon Damian Aspinall, to live in a sprawling mansion at below-market rates.
Founded by Mr Aspinall’s father John – a friend of Lord Lucan – the organisation runs a zoo and safari park in Kent as well as conducting conservation work overseas.
The probe into the Aspinall Foundation, which has hired the Prime Minister’s fiancee Carrie Symonds as its head of communications, is examining its ‘financial management and wider governance’
Carrie Symonds’ new employer Aspinall Foundation is being investigated by the Charity Commission, it emerged yesterday. Above, Ms Symonds (sporting a cheetah-print hair band) is already acquainted with her new boss, Damian Aspinall, and some of her ‘clients’ in the form of cheetahs Saba and Nairo following a visit to the charity’s headquarters in Kent last year
The foundation also owns the stately home Howletts House, which Mr Aspinall shares with wife Victoria.
The couple rent the Grade II listed Palladian mansion for just £2,500 a month – while anyone staying in a ‘glamping’ treehouse at the charity’s Port Lympne park are charged more than £400 for one relatively cramped evening.
Accounts also show that the foundation has paid Mrs Aspinall £62,000 in just two years for ‘interior design services’. The law forbids trustees from benefiting unduly from the charities they are linked to.
The non-profit organisation now owns Mr Aspinall’s stately home and rents it to him for just £2,500 a month – what appears to be a generous discount to market rates
The couple rent the Grade II listed Palladian mansion for just £2,500 a month – while anyone staying in a ‘glamping’ treehouse at the charity’s Port Lympne park are charged more than £400 for one relatively cramped evening. Pictured: Damian Aspinall and his wife Victoria
A source said Mrs Aspinall had done an ‘absolutely superb job’ for the foundation at a fraction of commercial rates.
Foundation trustees believe the Howletts House arrangement is legitimate because the property’s unusual location means normal rental rates would not apply.
In addition, Mr Aspinall pays for maintenance and upkeep.
Suggestions that the deal means he is available to help out at the Howletts animal park appear to have been undermined by his wife.
Mrs Aspinall has said the couple spend the week at their home in London, using Howletts only at weekends.
The Charity Commission has been aware of the rental agreement for more than a decade.
However, following the Mail investigation, a spokesman for the regulator last night confirmed that it ‘has been assessing a range of issues related to the Aspinall Foundation’s financial management and wider governance’, adding: ‘The trustees are co-operating with our inquiries. We cannot comment further at this time.’
Miss Symonds, in her capacity as spokesman for the foundation, said: ‘As is the case across the charity sector, the Aspinall Foundation is in regular dialogue with the Charity Commission regarding its governance and associated matters… [it] is fully aware of its legal obligations and remains committed to ensuring best practice compliance.’
The rollercoaster history of the Aspinalls
1956 John Aspinall, who worked as a professional gambler, found inspiration in Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard – a book about an illegitimate Zulu prince who lived outside his tribe among wild animals.
He decides to build a garden shed housing a Capuchin monkey, a 9-week-old tigress and two Himalayan bears – with seemingly little regard for the annoyance of his neighbours.
1962 John opens the exclusive Clermont Club – a casino based in Mayfair – which was limited to 600 and included 5 dukes, 5 marquesses and 20 earls.
John Aspinall had been close friends with Lord Lucan and Sir James Goldsmith (pictured)
1970s He uses the proceeds from the Clermont Club to finance the opening of his first zoo at a neo-Palladian mansion – called Howletts – outside Canterbury and begins breeding gorillas with the dream of one day returning them to the wild.
1972 The entrepreneur sells the Clermont Club and establishes his second park on a 275-acre estate at Port Lympne near Folkestone.
1984 John sets up the Aspinall Foundation – an animal conservation charity dedicated to protecting animals around the world.
Darren Cockrill, 27, (pictured) dies after being found with multiple injuries
1980 Two members of staff, Brian Stocks and Bob Wilson, were mauled to death within weeks of each other by the same tigress called Zeya.
1984 Mark Aitken, a 22-year old keeper at Port Lympne, was crushed to death by a bull elephant called Bindu.
1989 Two-year-old Matthew McDaid has his left arm torn off after approaching the enclosure of a chimp called Bustah in an attempt to stroke it.
1994 Trevor Smith, a keeper at Howletts, was killed when a two-year-old Siberian tiger pounced on him.
1998 The Aspinall charity sets up orphan gorilla project in Gabon.
February 2000 Darren Cockrill, 27, dies after being found with multiple injuries in the stall of a female Indian elephant at Port Lympne.
June 2000 John Aspinall dies of cancer in Westminster at the age of 74, and his son Damian takes over. He sets about revamping the zoo charity.
2011 The charity returns gibbons to Java.
John Aspinall pictured with Djoum, Britain’s biggest gorilla at the time, who weighed 470lb at his Howletts zoo
2017 Lowland gorillas are returned to the Congo.
2019 The Aspinalls send African painted dogs from Kent to their native homeland of Gabon. They had not roamed the country for 25 years.
January 2020 The charity becomes the most successful in the UK at breeding rare clouded leopards.
February 2020 The charity becomes the first in the world to send captive bred cheetahs from the UK for re-wilding in South Africa.
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