By NEIL SYSON
Published: 7th November 2009
FRAUD cops are probing the bank account of a campaign group which says Maddie McCann is dead - and aims to blame her parents.
Controversial lawyer Tony Bennett helped set up the Madeleine Foundation, but its account is now frozen.
Detectives want assurances over tens of thousands of pounds sent in by people supporting his warped aims.
Bennett, 62, ran the account from his home in Harlow, Essex.
Much of the cash came from the sale of £4 books blaming the McCanns after the three-year-old vanished in Portugal in 2007.
The couple think many people may have mistakenly donated believing they were funding the hunt for Maddie.
The account holds £2,700 but Mr Bennett is thought to have £90,000 in private accounts.
A rift had developed between Bennett and foundation chairwoman Debbie Butler. Police stressed the case was still only an investigation and no arrests had been made.
A source close to Gerry and Kate McCann said: "This foundation is now in meltdown. They can't wait to see the end of it."
Statement by TONY BENNETT,
Secretary of The Madeleine Foundation, in response to an article in today’s (7 November) ‘Sun’
New post 7th November 2009 at 9:47
I woke up this morning to read an article in today’s ‘Sun’ newspaper notifying its five million or so readers that there is a ‘fraud probe’ in relation to the finances of The Madeleine Foundation.‘The Sun’ did not contact me before printing the article.The recent background to this article, for those not so far aware of events of the last fortnight, is as follows.
On 26 October, for reasons best known to herself, Debbie Butler, Chairman of The Madeleine Foundation, decided to launch a strong personal attack on a public internet forum, ‘Missing Madeleine’, which included many false allegations against me.Due to this and many other related issues, the Committee of The Madeleine Foundation was left with no alternative by Monday 2 November but to expel her from membership under Paragraph 6 of our Constitution. On the same day, our bank was notified of a dispute, notified that one of the signatories to the account had been expelled, and informed that a members’ meeting would be held on 14 November when new signatories would be appointed.The allegations by Debbie Butler of ‘fraud’ and financial impropriety followed these events. There is no truth in any of her claims.I deal now with specific issues on ‘The Sun’ report.Dealing with the false claim that I ‘ran the account from my home in Harlow’, the brief facts are these:
1. The branch of the bank in which the account is held is in Debbie Butler’s home town of Maidstone
2. The account was jointly operated in that not one penny could be taken out of the account without both Debbie Butler and I signing cheques.‘The Sun’ article refers to the possibility that people might have mistakenly donated to The Madeleine Foundation thinking it was to support the fund to help find Madeleine. No-one donated on that basis. Incidentally Debbie Butler has publicly called for people who donated to the Foundation to ask for their money back. No-one has yet done so.Yes, the account has just over £2,700 in it.As for claims that people sent in ‘tens of thousands of pounds’, the actual total income to the Foundation between its establishment and the end of September 2009 was £8,104.05, made up a follows:
Income £ p
Loan from T Bennett 20 00
Loans from D Butler 350 00
Donations 590 00
Cash subscriptions 10 00
All Net PayPal Income(payments for books,subscriptions and donations) 5580 00
Cash sales of the booklet 1464 90
Retail booksellers 19 15
TOTAL: 8104 05
Madeleine Foundation members were recently sent a set of income and expenditure accounts in our newsletter.I now deal with ‘The Sun’ statement that ‘Mr Bennett is thought to have £90,000 in private accounts’. This is how that statement arose:
At the meeting with Kirwans, Solicitors, Liverpool, on 2 October 2009, the lawyers asked about our personal financial circumstances. I told them honestly that my current annual income was £14,000 (I have just filed my tax return) and that I had ‘a few tens of thousands’ saved up for my old age. This is where the ‘£90,000’ comes from.I take this opportunity to say that I have not made one penny either from the sale of ’60 Reasons’ nor in any way from The Madeleine Foundation; indeed it was my declared intent at the outset to make not a penny in any way connected with Madeleine’s disappearance. Our accounts will shortly be audited and that will I trust make it still plainer that there is no fraud or financial impropriety or irregularity in the conduct of The Madeleine Foundation’s affairs.
Contrary to the hopes of Gerry and Kate McCann as expressed in ‘The Sun’ article that ‘The Foundation is now in meltdown’, we have new blood on our Committee, we have a members’ meeting shortly, and we have plans.
Finally I wish to take this opportunity to clear up a few false rumours that appear to have been put about on the internet by Debbie Butler and including statements made by ‘Stevo’, Debbie Butler’s friend, on what was our website, madeleinefoundation.org I have seen claims that Debbie Butler put large amounts of money into The Madeleine Foundation. That is wholly untrue. As the above record of income shows, she made a loan of £350 in the initial stages to help get ’60 Reasons’ printed and published. On 7 October 2009 she asked for the return of that loan and I sent her a cheque the very same day. However, in addition, as the bank records will prove, I sent her more than £350. I sent her a cheque for £500 which included a further £150 which was my best estimate of the amount she had underclaimed in postage and stationery to date. There is email correspondence on this issue which I am happy to disclose if asked.Second, I have seen references made to a ‘mysterious amount’ paid out of The Foundation’s accounts. This was a sum of £800.00 expenses paid to me on 30 September on a cheque signed by Debbie Butler and which she knows about. The £800, which is fully backed by receipts, consists of a back claim for postage and stationery etc. and also a payment of £245.00 I made to Vera Steinke to finance a print run of 250 copies of the German translation of ’60 Reasons’ (income from those sales is pending). The large claim for postage etc. arose for two reasons.First, Debbie Butler had become increasingly erratic in sending out ’60 Reasons’ to those who had paid for it via PayPal, and I was getting increasing numbers of complaints from people whose orders had not been fulfilled. I simply had to take over the sending out of the booklets to ensure that that side of our work was run efficiently.Second, the press articles about the distribution of the ’10 Reasons’ leaflet in Leicestershire in August caused a huge upsurge of interest in our work and many new orders for booklets and other enquiries. Thus postage costs rose rapidly for the weeks after that.
I had planned to leave early to see my mother on the south coast this weekend, today 7 November is my late father’s birthday. When I’ve sent this off, we shall be away for the weekend, but if anyone has any queries I’ll be happy, as always, to answer them, after then.Needless to say, when I have a moment, there will be a complaint from me to The Press Complaints Commission about the article, which appears to have been printed based on ‘information’ supplied by Debbie Butler and hs not in any way been checked with me.
I’m downcast but not defeated.