by Honorary Insider *
Dunk and Charity Appeals
I drive a 10 ten year old Mondeo Estate (that’s a station wagon to our American friends) . The relevance of that will be revealed at the end of this post.
In 2005, a relative of Duncan Oldham, a young lady named Lauren, was struck down with paralysis of the spine. How an 18 yr old can come to terms with the fact that she will never ever walk again is beyond my comprehension .
I know some of the circumstances of how it happened. But as they may be the subject of one or more court actions, I’ll so say no more on that subject.
I want to stress that this post is not intended to be critical of Lauren or her parents. They deserve everyone’s sympathy.
It’s about a lack of transparency and accountability by Duncan Oldham, the Owner of Koptalk.
I want to know what he did with the money we sent for Lauren and her parents.
A few short weeks after the tragedy happened, the sole owner of Koptalk explained that Lauren’s parents were living in a town away from home in order to be close to the hospital. And because they both had taken leave of absence from work, they were feeling the strain financially.
So he wanted to know if we, members of Koptalk, could help. He said his Mum had helped all she could.
(Of course he would have helped, too, if he were able, he said. But he received no wages. Every penny he made from Koptalk was ploughed back into his site for the benefit of his “family” – as he used to call the users of Koptalk).
On the first day of his appeal he gave the name and address of Lauren’s parents.
That’s where I sent my small donation. I got a very nice thank you note from Lauren and her family some months later.
But on the second day of the appeal Oldham declared that all donations had to be sent to Koptalk.
The reason given for this change was that Lauren’s parents would be concerned that the door of their unattended house might be kicked in and their mail stolen. (Those more cynical than I could subscribe other motives for this contrived explanation).
Anyway I have a detailed knowledge of the Department of Social Security programmes. As such I am well versed in the procedure for claiming Disability Benefits.
I emailed Dunk offering my expertise in this field pointing out that Lauren would be entitled to at least £320 a month in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and her carer would be entitled to £45 a week for invalid care allowance (ICA).
I got no reply.
2nd Appeal – the Mortgage Pledge
Some weeks passed and then Duncan Oldham announced that Mr. and Mrs. Forsyth (Lauren’s parents and, presumably, also relatives of Oldham) were having real difficulty meeting their mortgage payments. Lauren had been moved to a specialist hospital somewhere in Yorkshire.
Could anyone help financially?
(He himself would have helped, of course, he said but he was unwaged and all the money he took in was ploughed back into his site etc etc etc).
This second appeal caused another generous outpouring of pledges in a Koptalk thread that became known as “The Mortgage Pledge ” thread where the good old “family”, that was Koptalk, rallied around to help people less fortunate than oursleves. Pledges came in fast and furious – a £10 here and a £5 there.
Someone even suggested that we set up a charitable trust for Lauren. As I previously served as a secretary on a charitable trust I pointed out that this was no easy matter. We would need a board of trustees, and the name and aims of the charity would have to be drawn up by a lawyer and submitted for approval by the Charity Commissioners. And then there must be audited accounts.
Everyone then decided that a charitable trust may not be such a good idea after all. In retrospect, I can imagine a large sigh of relief coming from the Wallsend area of Tyne and Wear. Duncan Oldham does not like “accountability”.
I think I paid two mortgage payments before thinking about it.
As I said previously, I know about the guidlines of Disability Benefits. Basically, the moment you ring up and ask for a Disability Claims Pack is the moment your benefits will be dated from when they are eventually approved. So it was criticial not to delay about registering a claim.
Lauren being confined to a wheelchair would get a higher rate Mobility Component and at least the middle rate Care Component of DLA. This would be between £320 and £422 every 4 weeks. In addition, her primary carer, presumably one of her parents, would be entitled to an Invalid Care Allowance of £45 a week.
All of this could be backdated for up to six months.
So at a minium the family income would get a boost of about £500 every 28 days, plus any back payments. This would probably be enough to offset the loss of earnings of a carer giving up work and certainly enough to pay a mortage. Or, in a worst case scenario, enough to pay the interest on the mortgage if capital repayments were temporarily suspended.
But guess what? The Mortgage Pledge thread on Koptalk went on and on and on for many months .
At no point did Mr Oldham say anything like : “Its OK folks, they’re fine now and no longer need your generosity”.
3rd Appeal – Charity Site
In addition to the Mortgage Pledge thread and the first appeal on Koptalk, Duncan Oldham also set up a website for his Lauren appeal.
That charity site was closed down in the summer of this year.
He said the closure was because “it was causing undue stress to the family……and the children”. It’s a familiar tactic of his – hiding behind children and accusing his critics of attacking them.
Others have pointed out that the site was closed after it was reported that somebody made a complaint that the charity was not registered and accounts not published. The complaint was made to the charity commissioners and, then, on their recommendation, to the police.
(Click here for a report on that story)
The law is that any organisation with annual donations over £1,000 MUST register with the Charity Commission.
Nobody knows how much the Lauren appeal made because Oldham did not keep any accounts. But I think its fair to assume that it was an amount more than £1,000 and therefore above the Charity Commision threshold, as the law stood at the time. It would only take 100 members to donate £10 each to reach that threshold.
Those of you who are new to Koptalk and are accustomed to watching tumbleweed roll across its deserted forums as the few remaining members eagerly await Dunk’s latest views on coffee and cheese, may think that 100 members donating to a fund may be a ridiculously high expectation. But I can assure you that Koptalk used to be a vibrant, thriving community with multi-level access and new threads extending to a Page 2 in a matter of hours.
But let us move forward to the spring and early summer of 2006 when Dunk began to brag about his new car – a Mercedes Clk 200 K Sport Auto valued at between £37,000 and £44,000 with the personalised number plate D1UNK.
A £40,000 car for someone who takes no wages from the site?
“I would obviously help if I could but every penny I earn from this site…….”
And then came his boasting about the other things he had bought recently or was in the process of buying – the expensive high-tech gadgets, and the Ford car, the new van and his interest in buying an ex-army Landrover. He also announced that he would be buying a house in Melwood (perhaps one which was listed at £300,000) . He had already claimed to have paid off his mother’s mortgage in Wallsend, and to have paid cash for his own house “across the street”, and to have a house in Scarborough. Now, in addition to the new house in Melwood, he was in the market to buy a hotel in central Liverpool and yet another new house in Malta for his Mum and a house in New York State for himself . Then there was his frequent days at the races, his betting and foreign holidays.
It was after all his bragging about how well he personally was doing financially from Koptalk and how much he was “treating himself”, as he put it – that I decided to demand a proper accounting for the money donated for Lauren and her parents.
If, like me, you feel suckered by the Owner of Koptalk. If you sent any donations or made any payments to the Mortage Pledge Fund or donated any goods to the Lauren fund, maybe you would like to join me.
Various ways of going about it are found on the Shop Oldham page in the toolbar at the top of this page. Maybe the blog should add the contact details for the Charity Commissioner. If enough people report their concerns the charity commissioners will start a full investigation.
As I stated in the opening paragraph, what happend to Lauren was tragic. I do not begrudge her or her family anything they got from Koptalkers or any member of the public who responded to the appeals. All I want to know is did they receive everything they were due?
This can be easily verified if Duncan Oldham would publish full and frank, audited accounts of the Lauren and Mortgage Pledge funds, detailing the monies received, where all the money went and what it was used for.
He could publish it here , on this blog, using the standing “Right of Reply” the blog have given him, or on another public forum of his own choosing.
I wish Lauren and her immediate family well in coping with their new reality.
(*Edit: This is the first time Honorary Insider has posted on the blog. He became an “honorary” on Koptalk not on the initiative of Duncan Oldham but in response to popular acclaim of the members there. They wanted to recognise his positive contributions. Like most others he has now left Koptalk. He has recently done some research on the law on charities and wanted to express his views on the matter.
At the blog we have received the opinion that the threshold for registering charities remains £1,000 even though a Bill was passed in November to raise the threshold for some charities to £5,000 in 2007 and in 2008 for others.
Click here for the Liverpool office.
Click here for all regional offices and an overview.
Here is an incomplete list of previous blog posts on the subject of the Lauren appeal.
The blog welcomes others who want to contribute an article. Please get in touch.
rupertinsider @ gmail.com