Richard Ratcliffe, who campaigned prominently for the release of his wife Nazanin from custody in Iran, has received ICAEW’s Outstanding Achievement Award for 2023. Ratcliffe, who qualified as an ICAEW chartered accountant in 2012 and works for BDO, was given the award yesterday evening at the Institute’s annual dinner, in recognition of his “exceptional commitment, sacrifice and resilience during his political campaign”.
Ratcliffe is the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained in Iran by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard on 3 April 2016. She was later sentenced to five years imprisonment on an undisclosed national security charge by the Iranian Revolutionary Court, declared arbitrary by the United Nations.
From the moment she was detained, Ratcliffe campaigned tirelessly to bring his wife home and never stopped discussing the £400m debt that the UK owed to Iran from the 1970s. It was eventually repaid and, after six years, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released on 16 March 2022 and returned to the UK.
ICAEW’s Outstanding Achievement Award is bestowed on a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales who has made an outstanding contribution in any field of endeavour. This year’s is the 44th award.
Although his campaign for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release was a world away from his day job, Ratcliffe says his accountancy and audit training came into its own, in particular the patient focus on evidence behind different assertions to navigate an unknown situation, the questions about accountability,and trying to work out what mattered materially were all familiar.
“Being an accountant gave me a certain way of looking at the world that was useful,” he says. “The experience of being an auditor involves stepping into environments where you don’t really know what’s going on, learning to piece things together, following the evidence and probing until it makes sense.”
When the story became front page news, Ratcliffe admits that being in the media spotlight was terrifying. “Suddenly realising, Icarus style, we’d risen up close to the sun and we had to make sure that we stayed within our boundaries.
“My accountancy training and experience was very useful for dealing with the internal ‘what do we do here’ panic, but also openly challenging the government. Part of the good auditor’s role is, even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable, to lift up rocks to find out what’s there. That was a useful preparation.
“But the most important thing I think accounting taught me was to look honestly at the substance of events regardless of their form. Across the six years, that was a very useful thing. Truth and fairness are powerful anchors for making sense of the world.”
Ratcliffe is immensely grateful for the support of his employer. He joined Moore Stephens LLP in 2015, which subsequently merged with BDO LLP, and he works in its International Institutions and Donor Assurance team, predominantly performing due diligence work on large international development aid contracts.
“It’s a very kind and supportive department,” Ratcliffe says. “There aren’t many hostage families that have been supported the way that I was. It’s a niche experience, but it’s not a unique experience. Typically, people will be asked at some point, ‘are you in or are you out?’ And I was allowed to be half in for a long time. Allowing me to keep the idea of normal life and a home to come back to was the most important thing they could have done. And they did that for a very long time.”
Ratcliffe jokes that when he was first contacted about the award by ICAEW, his initial reaction was, ‘am I in trouble? Have I not done my CPD?’ “I was honoured and very happily surprised to receive the award because I have not done an awful lot of accounting in the past couple of years, it must be said.”
For now, it’s very much about looking forward as he, Zaghari-Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella settle into the new normal. “For Nazanin, there’s an element of just wanting to get back to where life was before, whereas for me, the experience of campaigning was much more mixed; there were tough times of course, but I also experienced real kindness, humanity, care and support from lots of lovely people. I don’t want to forget about the past because there’s lots of good things about those six years and this award is a nice reminder of that.
“It feels like we’ve got a second chance in normal life. And a positive second chance. But having spent six years living it day to day not planning, just reacting to stuff – it takes a while to learn to look forward to things.”
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