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Slavery fund ruling urged from new Aberdeenshire and Moray councillors

Dick Bequest trustees have come under fire over their secrecy and inaction.
Dick Bequest trustees have come under fire over their secrecy and inaction.

Newly elected north-east councillors are being challenged to finally resolve the future of a £1.6 million teaching fund that was built on the profits of slavery.

The historians who uncovered the truth about the origins of the Dick Bequest more than a year ago wrote to Aberdeenshire and Moray local authorities to seek their intervention.

Councillors could be asked to consider a proposal to “decisively distance” themselves from the fund as early as next week.

The current governors of the trust – which has provided grants to local teachers and schools for almost two centuries – have been criticised for responding with “inaction, silence and secrecy” since it emerged that the cash was directly linked to the slave trade.

Late 18th century engraving of African captives for the Caribbean slave trade.

Aberdeenshire and Moray councils have both already moved to distance themselves from the Dick Bequest, which was established following the death of slave trader James Dick in 1828.

However, the two local authorities still appoint three of the 1o trustees of the fund, with the rest put forward by Aberdeen University and a group of lawyers known as the Society of Writers to the Signet.

David Alston and Donald Morrison, the two historians who first exposed how James Dick made his fortune in the Caribbean, now want the councils to refuse to renew the appointments of the current governors.

They hope the move could pave the way for charity regulators to step in and find a solution for the future use of the money, such as repatriating it to Jamaica.

In a letter to the chief executives of the local authorities, they said: “The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has provided detailed advice as to the steps which the governors of the Dick Bequest Trust could take to redirect these funds to Jamaica for the benefit of children there.

“Unfortunately the governors have declined to either act or comment.

‘Decisively distance’

“With the election of new councillors this month and the requirement to renew appointments to outside bodies, we suggest that the councils now decline to elect governors to the Dick Bequest Trust.”

Historian Dr David Alston.

A spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council said appointments would be discussed next week.

“Appointments to a range of trusts will be decided at the first meeting of full council next week, at which point members will be asked to consider how they would like to progress,” he said.

A Moray Council spokeswoman highlighted that its education committee agreed last year to lobby the Scottish Government to resolve the future of the Dick Bequest.

She said: “The committee further agreed that until such time as the fund is wound up the council would adopt a minimum approach in relation to the Dick Bequest, including no longer promoting the scheme or applying for equipment grants and make available full transparency of the origin of the fund.”

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