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PETER FROST unearths some nasty truths about just who makes what from poppy and other military charities.

So did you wear a poppy? Was it red or white? England and Scotland wore theirs and we still don’t know what, if anything, Fifa are going to do about it, at least at the time I am writing this.

Social media had its share of poppy pressure for and against and the repulsive Britain First once again conned a few naive people to like them on Facebook by pretending they were the brave champions of some threatened right to wear your poppy with pride.

They claim three-and-a-half million supporters and I never believed there were that many stupid people in the whole world but Donald Trump and Nigel Farage have convinced me that is probably a massive underestimate.

In south London some poor and probably desperate man was caught on the McDonald’s security camera sliding the poppy collection box under his coat.

The poet in me wondered if he was a Kiplingesque homeless and pennyless ex-squaddie — a modern-day Tommy Atkins. There are a lot of them about and sadly he looked just the part.

Perhaps too charitably, I hope he was a truly deserving case simply saving time and short-cutting the British Legion out of the accounting process.

Wiser counsels than me condemned him loudly — and rightly — but I thought it might be worth looking a little closer at some tales from the fields where the poppies flutter.

Jeff Lawton, a former local Derbyshire Conservative chairman, thought bigger than his local McDonald’s. He stole more than £3,000 from the Royal British Legion from the sale of poppies.

The former Tory MP Edwina Currie (below) is perhaps not the best judge of character — she was after all the woman who gave Jimmy Savile the keys to Broadmoor high-security hospital. She pleaded with magistrates to have mercy on her friend and Tory ally Lawton.

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Despite her best efforts the former Tory bigwig was convicted of stealing £3,153 meant for war heroes and their families.

Lawton, who has now resigned as chairman of the High Peak Conservative Association in Buxton, Derbyshire, had raised £400 for the British Legion but claimed he had only collected £200.

Another receipt revealed he had raised £7,000 but only submitted £4,000. He was found guilty of theft by magistrates and given a community order.

Lawton was arrested last October after the British Legion noticed discrepancies in its accounts. Its spokesperson said: “This loss will deprive those in the service and ex-service community and their families of much needed assistance and support.”

Meanwhile in Taunton, supermarket chain Morrisons showed the charitable side of big business. It forced an 89-year-old poppy seller to stand outside in the cold to sell his poppies.

A staff member explained there wasn’t room inside because Morrisons needed all the space around the entrance for its own money-making seasonal promotions.

A helpful member of the supermarket team told the 89-year-old and shivering poppy seller that if he was cold outside he should wear a warmer coat.

Perhaps we should be grateful that Morrisons eventually apologised, putting the whole thing down to a misunderstanding and at least in this case the cold cash for the poppies did reach the intended charity.

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One charity, Support The Heroes was dramatically shut down on the eve of Remembrance Sunday as part of a Charity Commission crack down on rogue operators that rip off the ex-service men and women for whom the donations are intended.

Many other military charities are under investigation by the commission it seems. Some have been misleading the public on just what percentage of the money donated is passed on to the heroes that they are claiming to support.

In one case, of the £3 million collected, just £250,000 — less than 10 per cent — reached those it was intended for.

Two other charities are also being investigated after failing to pass on to veterans the majority of the money they collected.

According to the Charity Commission, which regulates fundraising, one group — Our Local Heroes Foundation — collected £500,000 in donations in 2015 but spent only £10,000 on projects to help veterans — which is 2 per cent.

It has been ordered to suspend operations after BBC investigators filmed collectors falsely telling members of the public that every penny they donated went to good causes. In fact, the charity pays 33 per cent of everything it collects to a professional fundraising company.

Finally, you will remember the huge display of ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London two years ago to mark the centenary of the start of WWI.

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Just as with the war itself, there were those who saw the centenary and the flood of 888,246 poppies — one for every British casualty of that war — as a good opportunity to make a bob or two and not for charity, rather to line their own pockets.

Just one example, it is understood that a former hedge fund boss who backed the 2014 scheme allegedly made more than £1 million profit from the project. The Mirror has revealed that he is Ben Whitfield, who gives his address as a chalet in the French Alps.

In all, barely a third of the sum made from selling the 2014 Tower of London ceramic poppies has ended up with military charities.

Just £9.15 from the sale of each £25 poppy went to good causes with the remaining £15.95 absorbed by production and sales.

Company accounts show nearly £15m out of £23m raised was spent on “costs,” with the company owned by the poppies’ creator artist Paul Cummins (below) receiving £7.2m for producing the ceramic poppies. Just £8.4m went to six military charities, including the Royal British Legion, Help for Heroes and Combat Stress. The company was set up by Cummins and Historic Royal Palaces to arrange the sale.

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The moving and spectacular display at the Tower was visited by more than five million people over more than two months before the poppies were removed and offered for sale.

 

This article first appeared in the Morning Star 18 November 2016.

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