Mermaids says trustee who quit over paedophile group links ‘should never have been appointed’

An image of former Mermaids trustee Jacob Breslow

Mermaids has apologised and said it will review its recruitment processes after it emerged that a former trustee participated in a conference organised by a paedophile support group.

The trans youth charity’s chair of trustees, Belinda Bell, confirmed it became aware of Jacob Breslow’s involvement in the conference, which “would have disqualified him from becoming a trustee”, on Monday (3 October), and that it “immediately launched an investigation”.

Breslow resigned the same day.

An associate professor of gender and sexuality at the London School of Economics (LSE), Breslow gave a presentation at a  2011 symposium held by US group B4U-ACT.

The organisation provides “compassionate assistance” to paedophiles, who it calls “minor-attracted people”. It was founded in 2003 by convicted sex offender Michael Melsheimer.

In a description of his 2011 presentation, Breslow wrote: “Allowing for a form of non-diagnosable minor attraction is exciting, as it potentially creates a sexual or political identity by which activists, scholars and clinicians can begin to better understand minor-attracted persons.

“This understanding may displace the stigma, fear and abjection that is naturalised as being attached to minor-attracted persons and may alter the terms by which non-normative sexualities are known.”

Bell offered an apology on behalf of Mermaids, saying: “We want to apologise for the distress and concern this news has caused.

“It is clear that Dr Breslow should never have been appointed to the board, and as chair of the trustee board I am horrified that he was.”

Bell also addressed concerns over how it was possible that Breslow was ever appointed, especially as a Google search of his name quickly brings up articles from 2021 mentioning his troubling work around paedophilia.

She said: “All trustees and staff are subject to background checks including enhanced DBS searches, social media reviews and other due diligence. On this occasion, we also placed weight on the fact his employer is a globally renowned institution that would have carried out its own checks.

“Clearly none of this was enough.

“You will want to know what steps we are taking to ensure how we are more rigorous in future.

“First, we are commissioning a review of our trustee recruitment process to be carried out by an external expert body. We will enact its recommendations.

“Second, we are evaluating our policies and procedures, again in conjunction with an external expert body.

“Third, we have updated the Charity Commission on the matter and the steps the charity intends to take to ensure there is transparency about what happened.”

Bell added: “We should also say that Dr Breslow was a trustee for a very short period of time [from July until last week], during which he had no interactions with any of our young people or families and only attended one regular quarterly board meeting.

“Mermaids will continue to provide a wide range of support to the thousands of young people and families who need us. We want to apologise for shaking your faith in us.”

In a statement to the BBC, Breslow’s employer LSE added: “We have been made aware of a presentation given at an external event in 2011 by a then graduate student, now faculty member of LSE. We are looking into these reports.”

Since then, his faculty page on the LSE website has been updated to read: “Dr Jacob Breslow is currently on sabbatical leave until January 2023.”

Predictably, the serious misstep by the charity has sparked extensive anti-LGBTQ+ discussion, linking both Mermaids and the wider queer community to paedophilia.

The revelations about Breslow come as Mermaids is being targeted with a misinformation campaign, alleging that the charity poses safeguarding risks to children because of its provision of binders to young people.

Following an “investigation” by The Telegraph, which relied entirely on an unidentified adult masquerading as a 14-year-old child to access services from Mermaids, including the charity’s youth forum and web chat helpline, the Charity Commission received several complaints about Mermaids.

The commission later announced it would open a regulatory compliance case to assess the complaints, which is not a finding of wrongdoing.

But because of the regulatory compliance case, The National Letter Community Fund said this week that it would be pausing its funding for Mermaids, according to The Times. 

A spokesperson for The National Letter Community Fund told PinkNews: “We have paused any future payments to Mermaids, pending the Charity Commission’s Regulatory Compliance Case. This is an option open to us in cases such as this.”