Wednesday 8 January 2020 4:24 pm

Questions raised over Rory Stewart association with church under fraud cloud

Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart has been criticised for associating himself with a church being investigated for fraud by the Metropolitan Police and the Charity Commissioner. 

Croydon-based SPAC Nation was set up by former gang members to try and combat knife crime in BAME communities.

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However, in the past six months a flood of allegations and complaints have emerged about the church, with some claiming it is a cult.

The church is being probed by the Met and the Charity Commissioner, after allegations that senior pastors have been coercing young members to illegally take out loans and hand over the proceeds to the church. 

Stewart, a former Tory cabinet member, invited senior member of the church Daniel Ogoloma to speak at a campaign event in Croydon last night.

Stewart also went with Ogoloma on Monday to a Lambeth estate to speak to locals as a part of his London Speaks initiative.

Croydon councillor Sean Fitzsimons slammed the independent mayoral candidate for associating with the senior church figure, labelling Stewart as “naive”.

Labour Croydon North MP Steve Reed also urged Stewart to immediately distance himself from SPAC Nation.

“I think anyone who is trying to become mayor of London should not associate themselves with a group that has allegations of financial exploitation,” he said.

When asked by City A.M. about the association, a spokesperson for Stewart did not distance the mayoral candidate from Ogoloma or SPAC Nation.

“Rory has listened to a number of people – including people with direct experience of gang violence, and the troubles faced by people trying to escape it,” they said.

“Daniel is one of them. He was one of a number of people who spoke in Rory’s public meeting at Croydon.”

A part of the church’s image includes promoting a flashy lifestyle replete with designer clothes and luxury cars to try to attract young people to the church.

One pastor is even known to drive around in a Rolls Royce.

However, an investigation by HuffPost alleged the group – which says it helps young black people get off the streets – is exploiting young members by coercing them to regularly hand over money to pastors.

The practice is called “sowing seed” and often involves senior pastors coercing young members to sign out loans under their names or to create fake businesses to apply for loans.

HuffPost also found instances of members being forced to donate blood for money, before handing the proceeds to pastors.

SPAC Nation has consistently denied the allegations and say they are a part of a smear campaign.

Steve Reed said many people had come to him to complain about the group in his role as local MP.

He told City A.M. that the group displays all the classic traits of a cult.

“They run events where they offer free food to young people, they identify the most vulnerable ones, they befriend them and some of them are moved into properties run by leaders of the organisation.

“They are brainwashed and then they’re coerced into making fraudulent applications for loans.

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“I’ve referred 12 cases to the police myself about the group and I fully expect the Met to get in there and shut it down.”

SPAC Nation did not respond to requests for comment.