By NEIL SYSON
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."
in the Scum
Right to Reply
Statement by Tony Bennett, Secretary of The Madeleine Foundation, in response to an article in today’s (7 November) ‘Sun’
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) 5.580 00
Cash sales of the booklet 1.464 90
Retail booksellers 19 15
TOTAL: 8.104 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.(...)
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.
Right to Reply
I have had the Madeleine Foundation bank account frozen and was advised to go to the police after finding discrepancies that I am not satisfied with. This is an ongoing investigation and I am unable to post all of the details for reasons I am prepared to discuss only on the telephone with anyone who has any queries . 07867887066
Mr Bennett is suspended from his position as secretary and member of the foundation whilst the investigation continues, I remain as chairperson .
I have not contacted any newspaper and will not do so and am not responsible for the reporting of any article that may appear in the future in any newspaper .
Unfortunately there is more to this than meets the eye and matters have to be dealt with by proper authorities . I stand by everything and do not agree with Mr Bennetts reply supplied to various forums .