A trust founded by the Sacklers, the billionaire family accused of contributing to the US opioid crisis, gave more than £14m in its latest year of publicly recorded funding to British public bodies.
One of Britain’s leading orchestras, a regional theatre and a London academy were among the beneficiaries of the family trust – which temporarily halted all donations in 2019.
The largest donation, £500,000, was received by Newbury’s Watermill theatre, followed by £280,000 given to the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra Trust.
The Sackler Trust announced in March 2019 that it was pausing all new giving as members of the family stood accused of helping to fuel the US opioid drug crisis. But its latest filings to Companies House on 23 December record that “new commitments” totalling £3.5m were part of £14,543,399 worth of grants in 2020.
The trust has committed more than £60m since 2010 in the UK to charitable activities in medical science, the arts and other fields but has been caught up in the storm surrounding the family, members of which own Purdue Pharma. The company, which was behind the prescription painkiller OxyContin, has been facing hundreds of lawsuits in the US over its alleged role in the country’s opioid crisis, which has been killing more than 100 people a day.
Major British arts institutions including the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate group of galleries are among those who said in recent years that they would return or no longer accept gift donations from the Sacklers.
Members of the Sackler family who are directors of the trust include Dame Theresa Sackler. Relatives of those who have suffered in the OxyContin scandal called last month for her to be stripped of her title.
As well as the Watermill theatre and the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra Trust, other recipients were Edmonton Academy Trust, King’s College London and St Marylebone parish church in west London, all of which received £250,000.
Edmonton Academy Trust said it was pleased to receive a “generous” grant from the Sackler Trust, adding: “This donation, together with others received by the trust, will be used to enhance arts facilities for children and the local community. Without this generosity, the additional facilities we will offer would not be possible.”
Edelman, a public relations company representing some members of the UK-based Sackler family, declined to comment or confirm whether the latest accounts indicated a change in the trust’s policy of “pausing” new funding.
A spokesperson for the Watermill theatre said it was a registered charity generating more than 80% of its own income in a normal year and support from a range of trusts, foundations, corporate partners and individuals was vital.
The Sackler Trust’s support represented a continuing commitment to the theatre which equated to £125,000 a year over a four-year period, the spokesperson added, and the decision to accept the funding was considered by trustees, in line with the Watermill’s ethical policy and Charity Commission guidance.
“Funding from the Sackler Trust enables the Watermill to engage children and young people through schools projects and the youth ensemble, as well as reaching people living in isolation through an annual rural tour.”
A King’s College London spokesperson said that the £250,000 it received from the Sackler Trust in 2020 was a continuation of funding to support the work of Prof Declan Murphy and did not constitute a new donation.
“The continuation of funds will allow for crucial work into understanding how a healthy brain develops across the lifespan to progress, transforming understanding of common disorders like ASD, ADHD, epilepsy and Down’s syndrome,” said a spokesperson.
All donations accepted by King’s College London were approved by the university’s fundraising ethics review group (FERG) and had to adhere to the college’s policy for the acceptance of donations, they added.
The Sackler family declined to comment.