Soldiers off the Streets, a charity which claims to help homeless veterans, has been linked to a far right political group. Photograph: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP
The founder of a charity established by former members of the British National Party to help homeless soldiers has said he will close it down if it continues to be dogged by criticism from ex-servicemen and experts who question its credentials.
Soldiers off the Streets (SotS), a charity and limited company set up by Hugh William "Bill" Murray, the BNP's former secretary for Wales, who was once a close associate of the party's leader, Nick Griffin, was given charitable status in August 2010. Its latest accounts declare that it received about £6,000 in donations and lists its main activity as "social work without accommodation".
Three other former senior BNP members helped establish the charity. Daniel McDonald, who ran for the BNP in Horsham, resigned as a director in 2010, as did Christopher Robinson, an ex-serviceman who ran for the party in south Wales before his death two years ago. Griffin declared in 2009 that we are "involved in other veteran organisations such as ... Soldiers off the Streets. It definitely doesn't hurt the party to be connected to these groups."
Paul Jones, another BNP member, also helped establish the group but was "dismissed" according to SotS accounts. A spokesman for the organisation confirmed that another senior member had been expelled for making excessive expenses claims.
The charity says it provides "clothing, food and rehabilitation, including advice on post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse, housing and employment". But some have questioned its ability to deal with complex problems affecting veterans. Maurice Cousins of Nothing British, which campaigns against the BNP, wrote to the Charities Commission questioning SotS activities. "I raised issues surrounding the transparency of this organisation, their links to extremism and their qualifications for helping homeless veterans," Cousins confirmed.
Two ex-servicemen contacted by the Observer said they had become concerned about the group's activities. One alleged he was approached and offered accommodation in return for helping raise funds for the organisation, claims strenuously denied by the charity.
The ex-serviceman said SotS offered him an unfurnished flat for £400 a month – far more than he could afford – but said it would help him complete his benefit form to claim the cash. He said Murray had given him £30 to buy food and essentials after picking him up from the streets and taking him to a flat in the Midlands where he was met by a group of skinheads with no affiliation to the armed forces. "I didn't feel safe, so I just left," said the ex-serviceman, who asked to remain anonymous. Another serving soldier who worked with SotS described how he had been subjected to an online hate campaign for raising concerns about its activities.
SotS, which operates across the UK, has raised thousands of pounds in donations recorded on its Facebook page. It also sells merchandise such as badges, bumper stickers and wristbands. Its supporters claim it is doing vital work. Murray declared last year that "there could be as many as 10,000 [ex-soldiers] who will be homeless over Christmas and the problem is getting worse". However, homeless experts question the increasing emphasis in the charitable sector on the plight of veterans sleeping rough.
Government figures indicate there are around 1,800 "rough sleepers'" in England, of whom around 4% claim a military connection. A briefing from the respected charity Veterans Aid claims "many, on further investigation, prove not to be telling the truth. This is not surprising given that there are around 3,000 ex-service support bodies operating in the UK, offering help that is not available to those who are not veterans."
Murray and his partner, Marie, are sole officers of SotS, which claims to have helped 80 soldiers find accommodation. Murray said he had severed all links with the BNP and denied ex-soldiers helped by SotS were asked to raise funds for it.
"We've got a couple of lads that work with us, but they volunteered," he said. "We didn't ask them to join up. We've got a company that raises funds for us and we do events," he said, adding that the charity worked with landlords who had empty properties, helping SotS to find homes for ex-soldiers, and warned further accusations would make him reconsider his organisation's future.
"I will just say 'fuck it' and close it down. And then all the lads on the street can suffer and I'll name everybody that made us close it down. Anybody that stops it will be attacked for it and it won't be nothing to do with us."