Wednesday, 18 June 2014

No stone left unturned?

Visitors to, the website of Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned, who wish to learn more about the Fund, may click on the link marked ‘About Us’.

Here they can read:

Leaving No Stone Unturned Limited (is) a not-for-profit company, aka Madeleine's Fund, which has been established to find Madeleine McCann, support her family and bring her abductors to justice. The Fund is following best practice governance procedures as set out in the Good Governance Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector. The directors of the company are Brian Kennedy, Michael Linnett, Edward Smethurst, Jon Corner, Kate McCann & Gerry McCann. They have appropriate legal, business and charitable experience. An experienced Fund Administrator has been appointed to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability. This should enable the Directors to maintain an appropriate governance distance in the day-to-day operations of the Fund.

After News International had revealed that, in April 2011, over £21,000 collected from News of the World readers as a reward “for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine” had instead been paid out to Madeleine’s Fund, a series of questions were put to representatives of the Fund in an attempt to confirm what had happened to the money.

Clarence Mitchell, official spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, was asked by email what had happened to the News of the World Reward Fund. He did not reply.

Two emails to the Find Madeleine website received only an automated response:

Thank you for contacting the Find Madeleine Campaign. Your email will be read by a member of our campaign team. Please understand that we receive a large volume of emails and as a result you may not necessarily receive any further contact from us.

A third email to the site’s Webmaster eventually produced a reply:

Sorry, I do not know the answer to your question. 

Sent from my iPad

It was at this point, in early December 2013, that Dr. Gerry McCann was asked what had happened to the News of the World Reward Fund. He replied:

That is something you will need to take up with News International.

My understanding is that the reward was made up of pledges.

This reply contradicted the information previously given by News International, so two further emails were sent to Dr. McCann, explaining News International’s position. He did not reply.

Two further directors of Madeleine's Fund were then approached.

Jon Corner is  CEO of The Landing, a media facilities company at Salford Quays which, according to Visit Salford, is “a totally new facility at the heart of MediaCityUK where SMEs and micro-businesses can work alongside large media and technology organisations to drive product efficiency and develop new industry processes.”

According to his own website, Edward Smethurst is an “Award Winning Manchester Solicitor... In March 2012, Edward won the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award at the Manchester Legal Awards 2012, which recognised his contribution to the legal industry in addition to his charitable work that includes being Chairman of the Madeleine McCann Fund and a trustee of Cancer Research UK.”

Both directors were asked whether the News of the World Reward cash had been paid into the Madeleine’s Fund. How much? When? And had the transfer had been a subject of discussion at any board meeting of Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd.?

Mr. Corner did not reply.

Mr. Smethurst passed the enquiry to the Fund Secretary, whose name we are not releasing at this time.

(This was, it seemed, the experienced Fund Administrator who had been appointed to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability.)

Early in January 2014, the Secretary wrote:

I confirm that the Fund does not hold any reward money for finding Madeleine. The income received in the year to which you refer was from donations.

Once more,  this was at odds with the information given by News International.

The Secretary was further asked to confirm or deny if any payment other than the £550,000 for serialisation of Mrs. McCann's book was made by News International to the Fund in April 2011.

The Secretary replied:

I am sorry but I am not authorised to respond further. 

In mid-January 2014, the same request was put to Mr. Smethurst.

The reply came, instead, from the Secretary:

In light of the fact that the Board is inundated with requests for information and we publish our accounts that are independently audited and publicly available, the Board is not prepared to enter into answering individual queries. We are sorry that we are not able to be of further help.

In May 2014, it was put to Mr. Smethurst and the Secretary that, in April 2011, News International transferred the amount of £21,257.32 to Madeleine’s Fund: Leaving No Stone Unturned Ltd. The money had been donated by readers as a reward for information leading to the safe return of Madeleine.

Both were given the opportunity to amend or correct the claim. 

No reply was received.

So what did happen to the News of the World readers’ money?

And what happened to transparency? 

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