Thursday 19 September 2019

SF mystery donor told to enjoy his money and 'put it on a horse'

William Hampton
William Hampton
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

When investigative journalist Paul Halloran learned that reclusive mechanic William E Hampton was leaving him £1,000 in his will he tried to persuade him to use the money himself.

That was after he got over the surprise that another beneficiary was Sinn Féin.

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"I sort of laughed," the former reporter for British magazine 'Private Eye' said. "'Bloody hell'," I thought. 'For the first time in my life I'm linked with Sinn Féin' - even if it's only through someone's will who I only met once in my office."

Little has been publicly revealed by Sinn Féin about how Mr Hampton, who was living in a caravan in Ireland and "of no fixed abode", came to leave at least £1.5m (€1.65m) to the party. He was said to be a Sinn Féin supporter who came from a wealthy family background.

His 1997 will lists Dessie Macking and Joe Cahill - then the party's treasurers - as executors and trustees but Sinn Féin has not outlined how that came about.

The money was intended to "cover election expenses, to fund Sinn Féin offices... and to aid Republican prisoners".

The donation - revealed by Sinn Féin to the UK's Electoral Commission - has sparked huge curiosity about Mr Hampton and why he left so much money to the party linked to the Provisional IRA and its murderous campaign during the Troubles.

Mr Hampton died last year aged 82.

Mr Halloran doesn't know what links Mr Hampton had to the political party.

"I had no inkling that he even knew how to spell Sinn Féin. He didn't come to see me to talk about that. He came to me to talk about being persecuted by accountants."

He said Mr Hampton believed the firm that was dealing with his father's business interests were after him. He wanted Mr Halloran to write a story about it when he approached him in the early 1990s. The journalist described Mr Hampton as a "frail individual" who "lived on his own and moved around a lot".

As it happens Mr Halloran determined there was nothing to the allegations, and the firm was merely trying to pay dividends to Mr Hampton.

They had sporadic phone contact in the years after and Mr Halloran learned he was included in the will when it was sent to him in 1997.

He still has a copy of the letter he tried to send to the mechanic - through his solicitors - to say he didn't want the money.

Mr Halloran told Mr Hampton while he was "honoured" to be included and his offer for funds after his death was "both generous and something that I did nothing to deserve".

He said he hoped Mr Hampton was well and finds the "peace and contentment that you so richly deserve and that you will no longer feel driven to move on so frequently".

Mr Halloran said he couldn't change his benefactor's mind but added "please invest it more wisely by putting it on a horse or buying tickets in the National Lottery.

"At least in your lifetime you may enjoy it rather than you being left with a legacy that you cannot dispose of."

Mr Halloran does not know if Mr Hampton ever got the letter. Either way he was told two months ago Mr Hampton had died and asked where the £1,000 should be sent.

Sinn Féin, meanwhile, is in line for a lot more.

Mr Hampton died in January 2018 at a nursing home in Wales and left an estate of almost £2.6m (€2.9m), which included assets in Ireland, England, Singapore and New Zealand.

He was unmarried and had no children. He is believed to have inherited the fortune from his father Edward who owned a transport business.

The bulk of money was left to Sinn Féin which may get further donations from the will, as there is more than £1m (€1.1m) still unaccounted for.

Sinn Féin's vice-president Michelle O'Neill has rejected suggestions the party needs to be more transparent about the donation. "I understand it's a juicy story but there's nothing to see here," she told the BBC.

Opposition politicians have raised questions about the donation with Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins calling on Sinn Féin to outline how it happened "in the interests of transparency".

Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly insists, "it's not unusual for people without living relatives to make bequests to organisations".

But she said she can't explain the motivation "because I don't know the man. I never met him".

Sinn Féin didn't respond to questions seeking further details of its links to Mr Hampton.

As for Mr Halloran's take, he says simply: "It's Sinn Féin's good fortune."

He says of Mr Hampton: "He was not a stupid man and he would not be easily led, although he was a very lonely and troubled man.

"He had clear views about what he believed in and he had opinions.

"If he sat down, as he must have done with Sinn Féin, and said this is what I'd like to do, he would have thought that through as best he could."

Irish Independent

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