‘Nothing can stop me’ says the man behind the Croydon-based evangelical church that was shut down by a Charity Commission investigation, as he continues to seek donations online and from the congregation at services held off the Purley Way and in Banstead.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The controversial pastor of a Croydon-based evangelical church who is banned from being a charity trustee will be expecting a bumper congregation at his next service on Sunday.
Easter is the holiest day in the Christian calendar, and “Pastor” Martin Phelps is probably hoping for especially generous donations as he rattles his collection tin, both online and in person.
Phelps and his wife, Sandy, have continued with their money-spinning ministry, despite the eight-year investigation conducted by the Charity Commission, and tax inquiries by HMRC. Because Phelps’ lucrative church “career” has, for want of another phrase, risen again…
When the Commission stepped in at the Rhema Church London in 2015 after complaints about the Phelpses’ abuse of money from the registered charity, with officials freezing its bank accounts to protect its assets, South African-born Phelps simply carried on operating under a different church name.
And there seems to be nothing that the Charity Commission or other public authorities can do about it.
The Charity Commission investigation found “serious misconduct and mismanagement, including misuse of funds and other assets”, according to a report published last week.
At one point, Rhema Church London had a £1million a year turnover and was staging Sunday services at the Fairfield Halls, paying £10,000 per week in hire fees.
What most members of the congregation did not realise was the very uncharitable nature of how the Phelpses were spending their donated cash. The investigation found charity donations spent on gym memberships, vets’ bills, cosmetic surgery and other personal expenses, including more than £95,000 on overseas trips.
Charity Commission officials conducting their inquiries reported being subject to “considerable harassment, intimidation and threats”.
Early in the inquiry it was discovered that in one year alone, of £290,000 spent on the church credit card, only £57,000 was used on church-related activities. When the Charity Commission arranged a meeting to discuss the issues with the church leaders, the Phelpses opted to go to dinner at The Shard instead.
HMRC also wanted to know what had happened to £370,000 of unpaid tax bills.
In December 2017, Martin Phelps was dismissed from the Rhema Church for “gross misconduct”.
But by February 2018, Phelps was leading services for large congregations at another Croydon venue, the Aerodrome Hotel, off the Purley Way, for a new church, which he called Oceans London.
“No man’s an island and we’re not meant to worship alone,” says Oceans’ blurb on social media. “Come and experience the corporate presence of God this Sunday at Oceans. You will never be the same!” Funny how the Phelpses managed to work in the word “corporate” to a piece of publicity for their often lucrative activities.
He has other online entities, such as Martin Phelps Ministries, which offers recordings of Bible readings and – like the Oceans website – provides ample opportunities to make an offering to God. Or to Phelps, it is not entirely clear.
The bank account details for donations on the two websites are different. The Ministries website states that Phelps’ Sunday services, with the Oceans Church, are held at the Aerodrome Hotel.
Phelps writes, “I pursued full-time ministry work after God gave me a vision instructing me to do so. This led to me giving up my business where God had blessed me mightily in the years prior.”
On this website, he claims that when God told him to start a church in England which “…after a period of time, grew to nearly 3,000 members. This included a very strong children’s ministry, a youth ministry and a Bible School attended by many hundreds of students, all free of charge”.
Yes: free of charge. Just like most churches and religious services have always been. Which seems to be an interesting point to make by someone banned for 10 years from being a trustee of a charity.
Phelps repeats the same “free of charge” point in the very next paragraph before stating that, “Satan has been desperate to hinder me but God’s grace is sufficient and nothing can stop me!”
One former member of Phelps’s congregation told Inside Croydon, “That’s very probably the first and only time that the Charity Commission has been compared to Satan.”
Another source, who has been monitoring the activities of some of the more cult-like evangelical churches in south London, told Inside Croydon, “Religion itself isn’t regulated, but it is charitable. If your church has an income over £5,000, you must register as charity, unless you are a member of certain church umbrella groups.
“Phelps openly fundraising on his website is pretty shocking. There are no regulations against soliciting for money though. He doesn’t get the tax breaks of a charity, but he also doesn’t have the regulation.”
It almost appears as if, since his run-in with the tax man and the Charity Commission, Phelps is deliberately trying to avoid any regulation by the authorities.
In August 2017, in the middle of the Charity Commission probe into Rhema, Oceans Church London, company number 10908790, was registered at Companies House with an office address at the Capital Business Centre on Carlton Road in South Croydon. The purpose of the business was given as “activities of religious organisations”.
Among the initial three directors was Reverend Sandra Phelps, who gave as her profession “Minister of Religion”.
The company’s last set of accounts listed two employees, although the business did not seem to be raking in the cash in quite the same way Rhema managed, with less than £6,000 in the bank or owed.
It will have been around this time that the Charity Commission will have been in correspondence with the Oceans Church, laying out their legal responsibilities in respect of registering as a charity. The company was voluntarily dissolved in October 2020.
But this was not the end of Oceans Church’s operations. They have continued to hold services and maintain a web presence. And to operate a company. Just a different company.
In July 2019, Oceans London Ltd was registered as a company, with company number 12125480, with similar business purposes. But Oceans was becoming a good deal more opaque about their affairs. The company’s registered address was given as a PO Box in Whyteleafe.
According to Companies House records, the company has continued to operate, and has filed its accounts up to 2022. They show assets of £14,612, down from £25,332 the previous year.
These figures still put Oceans London Ltd well above the £5,000 minimum that should require them to register as a charity with the Charity Commission.
You can see the latest accounts for yourself here. Just as with the previous version of the company, the accounts show two employees.
Oceans London Ltd has only ever had three directors – Adam Ian Frost, Nicholas William David Travis and Michael Robert Edward Privett (who has since resigned). All three had at some time been directors of the original company, Oceans Church London.
Notably, neither Sandy nor Martin Phelps has ever held a directorship in the newer registered company.
So Oceans London Ltd continues to practise, and to preach.
After lockdown, they resumed their Sunday services in the Amy Johnson Suite at the Aerodrome, only stopping in January this year when the Home Office block-booked the hotel to provide accommodation for refugees awaiting processing.
Oceans has since moved to in-person services every other Sunday at 11am at a venue in Banstead, although they appear a little cagey about exactly where. “Email us for the location,” they say, like the organisers of some illicit rave.
Inside Croydon understands that the Charity Commission has been aware of Oceans Church for five years. “We were satisfied that it operates as a commercial company and not as a charity,” a spokesperson for the Commission said.
“The Charity Commission acts as regulator for charities operating in England and Wales. Commercial companies do not fall within its remit unless claiming to be a charity.”
Oceans actually specifies on its website that it is not a charity. Again, as if it is studiously avoiding being subject to any regulation.
The Charity Commission, therefore, after an eight-year investigation, is taking no further action on Martin and Sandy Phelps over their nice little earner in south London.
Indeed, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Phelpses and the Oceans Church: people willingly parting with their own money is a matter for them. Although it may strike most reasonable people that, with a track record like the Phelpses, there may many other, more deserving causes for their donations.
The Charity Commission advises that members of the public should only donate to registered charities “so that they can feel reassured that their donations go to their intended charitable cause”.
More details on this and the recommended steps to avoid charity scams can be found by clicking here.
And they say that if anyone is aware that someone is falsely claiming to raise funds for a charity, they should contact the police’s Action Fraud service.
Inside Croydon contacted Martin Phelps to ask him about his resurrected church. But our faith in human nature was clearly misplaced, because he has not replied.
He probably still thinks he is answerable only to God.
- Click here for the Charity Commission’s full report on Rhema Church London and Martin and Sandy Phelps
Read more: Church leaders spent £95,000 charity cash on foreign holidays
Read more: Unholy row as church leaders run up massive tax debts
Read more: Cult Church of Bling wound-up over ‘suspicious’ operations
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Cursed are the money-makers, for they shall be called the children of Satan. (Brian 5:9)
He is in the wrong job. He would do well at Croydon Council
Only vulnerable people who he can take advantage of would stay at a church like this.
Do people that attend the services or listen to him not know his dodgy history? All his content should be removed. Exploitation at its finest.
In the immortal words of the Genesis hit –
Jesus he knows me
Won’t find me practisin’ what I’m preachin’
Won’t find me makin’ no sacrifice
But I can get you a pocketful of miracles
If you promise to be good, try to be nice
God will take good care of you
Well, just do as I say, don’t do as I do
Well, I’m countin’ my blessings
‘Cause I’ve found true happiness
‘Cause I’m gettin’ richer
Day by day
You can find me in the phone book
Just call my toll free number
You can do it anyway you want
Just do it right away.
Probably also works for Croydon Planning and full Negrini’s