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Family of Olive Cooke say charities are not responsible for her death

Olive Cooke
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Family of Olive Cooke say charities are not responsible for her death

Fundraising | Alice Sharman | 19 May 2015

The granddaughter of Olive Cooke, the 92-year-old poppy seller said to have committed suicide after being overwhelmed by fundraising requests, has said that charities are not to blame for her death.

At one point Cooke received 267 charity letters in one month and friends and family suggested she felt overwhelmed by them. This led to accusations in various media outlets that she was "hounded to death" by charities.

Cooke, who was found dead by the Avon Gorge near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol on 6 May, two days before VE day, had dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion, and is believed to have sold over 300,000 poppies.

Giving to charity was a 'passion'

Her granddaughter, Jessica Dunne, said that although the phone calls from charities were beginning to get “intrusive”, there is “no blame or suggestion that this was a reason for her death”. Dunne said that her grandmother gave to charity because she could afford to.

She said: “Nan would have wanted the work of charities to be promoted. It brought her great comfort to know she could help make a difference in a person's life by donating to charities and by her own charity work.

"She believed that charities are the backbone to our communities, that they can be the scaffolding for us in our times of crisis. She believed that charities give us support, hope and courage when we need it the most.

"I think that the amount of contact from charities was starting to escalate and get slightly out of control, and the phone calls were beginning to get intrusive, but there is no blame or suggestion that this was a reason for her death.

"She might have had up to 27 direct debits at one point and been a bit exhausted by all the letters, but she had decided which charities she wanted to give to.

"She had her favourites and was not bumbling along and letting them grow and grow. She was very on-the-ball with money and gave to charities because she wanted to and could afford to - it was a passion."

Dunne said that her grandmother had left the family a “beautiful note” explaining the reasons for her death, which were connected to depression and “health issues”, making no mention of charities.

She went on to say that the fundraising methods “were a small part within a complex situation”, and that any accusation that Cooke was “killed by kindness” were untrue.

However, Dunne said that although the repeated contact from charities “was not a causative factor”, issues around fundraising still need to be addressed.

Charities 'do a great job'

Dunne said: "It would be nice if some good came from this, if people supported the elderly around them and offered them comfort and support.

"The contact from charities does need looking at, and obviously with the methods of fundraising there are issues that need to be addressed and are being addressed now, which has got to be a good thing.

"But their work should still be praised and they do such a great job."

Cooke’s MP, Kerry McCarthy, has promised to speak to the Charity Commission about the number of letters and calls received, and the Fundraising Standards Board has said it will review the case.

The great-grandmother’s family said it hopes to set up a fund in Cooke’s name. 

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