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BBC Comic Relief probe into ‘booze, bombs and fags’ investments broadcast tonight

By Darren Boyle

The BBC will broadcast a controversial Panorama programme tonight uncovering Comic Relief’s investments in arms manufacturers, alcohol companies and tobacco giants.

The investigation showed that in 2009 the charity had invested £630,000 in major arms manufacturer BAE Systems.

The charity had invested £3 million in tobacco companies while putting further cash into Diageo – owners of Guinness. It is understood the charity had invested £300,000 in alcohol shares.  

The original broadcast date for the show had been delayed and new BBC director general Tony Hall was forced to reassure MPs in October that it would still be aired.

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In the show, broadcast tonight on BBC1, the programme claims that investing in ethical portfolios could have outperformed the controversial shares.

However, Comic Relief defended its investment policy claiming it did not have an option when it came to investments.

In a statement, it said: "To fulfil our legal obligation, Charity Commission guidelines are clear that charities are required to maximise returns on money in their care. For Comic Relief, because the range of issues we support is so broad, ethical screening would significantly limit our ability to invest as well as seriously increase financial risk.

"Therefore ethical screening would have left us unable to meet both our legal and moral obligation to maximise returns and look after the money in our care with an appropriate level of risk. Instead we put the money into large managed funds, like many other leading charities and pension funds. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people.

"This policy has achieved strong returns over the years, which have helped Comic Relief cover its running costs, without having to use any of the money donated directly by the public. This is a complex area, with many important considerations, and we keep it under constant review."

The charity has raised more than £900 million for good causes in almost 30 years.

However, approximately £100 million of this is currently invested in the financial markets.

The charity refuses to reveal where this money has been placed and has removed details of its investment policy from its annual accounts. Earlier annual reports show the charity had invested heavily in city products known colloquially as "booze, bombs and fags" funds. 

Also in the programme, Save the Children was forced to deny it refused to criticise big energy companies over the issue of fuel poverty because it was actively seeking corporate donations.

The Independent claimed that the charity allegedly spiked a press release criticising price hikes.

The newspaper quotes Dominic Nutt who headed the charity’s press team until 2009.

He said:  “When British Gas put their prices up, our policy colleagues asked us to send out a press release condemning them… I wrote the release, got it approved by the policy experts and prepared to press ‘send’.

“But the release was spiked because, I was told, it would upset British Gas who were Save the Children donors. The quest for money is beginning to destroy the mission.”

The charity completely denies these allegations.

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said: "It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest our silence can be bought. We will continue to campaign on all the areas we think matter most to saving children's lives both at home and abroad.

"We are a very ambitious organisation that is working in some of the toughest places in the world to dramatically cut the number of children dying from preventable illnesses. By harnessing the power of the private sector in a revolutionary way we can have more impact than we've ever had before.

"At just eight per cent of our budget, working with partnerships in such an innovative way is not about the money – it's about utilising research and development, along with ground-breaking know-how, to do good.

"Save the Children would never put in jeopardy our values and our cause by pulling our punches on a campaign for money from a corporate partnership."

Panorama: All in a Good Cause, airs at 10.35pm tonight on BBC One.

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