Sunday 22 September 2019

Mystery Sinn Féin donor who left party €1.6m was 'a very lonely creature and a sad man', says benefactor given £1,000

William E Hampton
William E Hampton
Investigative journalist Paul Halloran.
Dennis Skinner
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: PA

Lauren Harte

The mechanic who left Sinn Fein £1.5m was a "frightened individual" who lived a very frugal and hermitic life, one of the benefactors of his will has revealed.

William E Hampton was living in a mobile home when he bequeathed the money - the largest-ever known donation to a political party in Northern Ireland.

When he died in January 2018 aged 82 at a nursing home in Pembrokeshire, Mr Hampton left an estate of almost £2.6m.

It is understood that he inherited the money from his father, who ran a transportation business called Hamptons near the London borough of Ealing.

READ MORE: UK crime agency notified of €1.6m left to Sinn Féin

When his father sold the business and later died, Mr Hampton and his sister were the sole beneficiaries of the will.

As part of Mr Hampton's instructions, which he wrote in 1997, £1,000 was each given to Labour MP Dennis Skinner and investigative journalist Paul Halloran.

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Investigative journalist Paul Halloran.

Another £6,000 was donated to two English residents.

Mr Hampton's donation was made public on Thursday by the Electoral Commission.

Mr Halloran was the chief investigative reporter for Private Eye from 1980 until 1992 and first encountered Mr Hampton when he arrived at the magazine's office in Soho around 1989.

Recalling the events of that meeting, Mr Halloran told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that the pensioner had wrongly believed he was being chased by accountants over his inheritance.

"He was the recipient of dividend cheques in relation to his family's transportation company," Mr Halloran said.

"He took the view, which was completely wrong, that he was being pursued by accountants for reasons that he couldn't understand.

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Dennis Skinner

"In fact, all they were doing was trying to deliver to him dividend cheques.

"He came in with the paperwork and you could see what it was.

"He didn't have a story and had difficulty understanding why these people were chasing him, but that was the only reason.

"The dividend cheques must have stacked up and he must have also begrudgingly cashed some of them to keep himself going, but he was not someone who lived well.

"He was very frugal and when I met him I thought, 'You haven't eaten for a while'.

"I took him out and gave him a bacon sandwich and cup of tea. That's all he wanted and he wasn't all that happy about taking it."

READ MORE: Mystery €1.6m Sinn Féin donor lived in a caravan

Mr Halloran added: "He was a very lonely creature and a sad man. He moved from place to place because he had the view that he was being persecuted.

"He was scared of people and went to live on his own in a caravan and then disappeared. There was no way of keeping track of him and I had no reason to.

"When I got (a copy of) the will in 1997, I wrote him a note which said, 'Spend your money on yourself and enjoy the rest of your life as best you can and thank you for the generous consideration which is the first I've ever had in terms of a will'.

"I sent the letter through his solicitors, but don't even know if he received it.

"The last conversation I had with him before 1997, he rang me up and said, 'You're one of the few people in my life that has ever shown me any kindness'.

"That tells you something about the nature of the man and it wasn't hard to show him kindness because he didn't exhibit anything that was abrasive or aggressive. He was just a poor, frightened individual.

"Towards the end of his life, he settled down a lot more and died in a nursing home on the south coast so at least part of the money he inherited was used to look after him at the end."

READ MORE: John Downing: 'Strange bequest again puts the spotlight on 'do-nothing' Sinn Féin'

Mr Halloran said he was "surprised" when he read of the donation to Sinn Féin in Mr Hampton's will, which was paid to the party in instalments of £1m and £500,000 in April and May of this year.

"I never knew that he had anything to do with them.

"I had never spoken to him about it nor had he discussed it with me because we never spoke regularly," he added.

"I don't think he ever expressed a political view in his life to me. I don't believe him to be unhinged - he just had difficulties."

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: PA

The Labour Party did not respond to requests for comment on the donation to Mr Skinner when contacted yesterday. Meanwhile, Fine Gael Senator James Reilly has said it would break Irish political spending laws if any of the money left to Sinn Féin was spent in the Republic of Ireland under Standards in Public Office (Sipo) rules.

Mr Reilly added that party leader Mary Lou McDonald should confirm that none of the money will be used in that jurisdiction.

He said "the honourable thing for Sinn Féin to do would be to return the money to the estate" and this would prove that Sinn Fein is a "legitimate law-abiding party".

READ MORE: 'No plans' to investigate Sinn Fein over €1.6m donation, says NI Electoral Commission

Belfast Telegraph

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