Harborough fundraiser tells councillor who’s sat on a charity warchest of almost £50,000 for 29 years - 'give me the money to boost great causes'

Carole Tilley has thrown down the gauntlet for Cllr Roger Dunton to pick up nearly three decades after she helped get the Hippo Appeal off the ground

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 10:48 am
Carole Tilley

A veteran Market Harborough fundraiser is telling a town councillor who’s sat on a charity warchest of almost £50,000 for 29 years – give me the money to boost great causes.

Carole Tilley, 72, has thrown down the gauntlet for Cllr Roger Dunton, 74, to pick up nearly three decades after she helped get the Hippo Appeal off the ground.

She is being backed by Harborough MP Neil O’Brien and Harborough District Council leader Phil King as she fires up her battle to have the £48,000 pot of cash put to good use supporting local charities.

Carole Tilley with her husband Alan

The MP has now written to the head of the Charity Commission watchdog calling for an urgent solution to the astonishing saga stretching back to 1992.

Furious Carole, of Bath Street, Market Harborough, told the Harborough Mail today: “I have got one very simple message for Roger Dunton – give me the money so that we can finally put it to work.

“Hand it over now.

“You have had it for nigh on 30 years and done nothing with it.

Roger Dunton

“It beggars belief.”

The high-profile Market Harborough charity stalwart added: “I have tried time and time again to get in touch with Cllr Dunton and pin him down.

“But he won’t return my calls – and he crosses the road to avoid me.

“This is just not good enough.

“People come up to me in the street in Market Harborough all the time asking me what’s happened to the money.

“The Hippo Appeal was launched way back in the early 1990s to fund a £250,000 hydrotherapy pool.

“I got involved very early on – as did Roger Dunton, who became a trustee.

“A whole load of fantastic people in Market Harborough got together to go on walks, hold raffles, sell cakes and do all sorts of things to raise money for this incredible cause.

“They put in so much time and effort as well as donating money themselves,” said Carole, who’s staged charity fundraising events for over 50 years.

“Many of those people have very sadly since died.

“Roger Dunton is never going to make our hydrotherapy pool dream come true.

“So it’s high time he handed the £48,000 over to me.

“I will find some very good homes across Harborough for this cash.

“We have so many excellent charities which desperately need help – and they’re all struggling after this terrible Covid pandemic year.

“I was so proud to get behind the Hippo Appeal when I was in my early 40s.

“Now I’m a 72-year-old grandma – and we are not one inch further forward.

“And all that money is still sitting in a Harborough Building Society account in Roger Dunton’s name without a penny having been spent.

“It’s a disgrace.”

Asked if he has made any progress setting up a hydrotherapy pool, Cllr Dunton told the Mail: “I have got two organisations very interested in helping us.

“One is now putting in planning permission to build an extension to the buildings they have already got.”

He refused to say who the “local” company was or reveal any more information about the set-up.

“The other is Harborough council, which is taking this up again.

“But I don’t want them to know about each other because that might mess it up,” said Cllr Dunton, a long-serving Liberal Democrat for Harborough council’s Welland ward in Market Harborough.

“So I’m not going to say any more about this.”

The retired firefighter insisted he had become “lumbered” with heading up the Hippo Appeal after a “man died”.

Cllr Dunton then denied he was a trustee of the ill-fated former charity – which was wound up in 2009.

But he admitted he had all the money raised by scores of well-wishers in an account before putting the phone down.

Harborough MP Neil O’Brien has now sent an urgent letter to Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, demanding prompt action.

“I write to share my concerns about a matter that is currently under investigation by the Charity Commission, regarding a formerly registered charity in Harborough.

“Many of my constituents are very concerned about this and I would be grateful for an urgent response on this important matter.

“By way of background, the ‘Harborough Hippo Appeal’ raised almost £50,000, 29 years ago.

“Since then, there has been no progression towards using the funds either towards the original purposes of the funds (a hydrotherapy pool) or anything else of a similar nature,” writes Neil.

“A constituent of mine, Carol Tilley, was involved in the initial fundraising efforts and has been pursuing the matter directly with the custodian of the funds, Roger Dunton.

“Unfortunately, no progress has been made despite her best efforts to move this forward.

“Of particular concern is that we understand the charity is no longer formally registered with the Charity Commission and elapsed some years ago.

“I and my constituents are keen to understand what exactly has happened here, how it is the charity was allowed to dissolve without distributing the sizeable funds it had raised, and what possible course of action exists to the Charity Commission towards recovering these funds,” asks the Conservative MP.

“A number of my constituents remain deeply unsatisfied with this near 30-year impasse, which shows no immediate signs of coming to an end.

“I would be grateful for an urgent response to this, to enable me to provide an update to my constituents on the charity and how the funds raised can finally be put to good to use in Market Harborough.”

Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough council, told the Mail: “This whole affair is extremely unsatisfactory and very worrying.

“Roger Dunton has a lot of questions to answer.

“The Hippo Appeal money that he’s got in an account does not sit within the protection of a proper charitable body.

“That is simply not acceptable,” insisted Cllr King, a member of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

“I would have expected Cllr Dunton to have sorted out this extraordinary situation a long time ago.

“I have serious concerns as to why this has still not been resolved almost 30 years after the Hippo Appeal was started.

“We need to be told what is happening.

“I fully understand the deep frustrations and anger of Carole Tilley and everyone else who helped to raise this pot of almost £50,000.”

Cllr King also reiterated that cash-strapped Harborough council has got no plans to help Cllr Dunton set up a hydrotherapy pool – despite his claims.

He said they made it categorically clear to him earlier this year they can’t afford to help him bankroll the pool at Harborough Leisure Centre on Northampton Road, Market Harborough.

“Nothing has changed since then.

“So I don’t know why he says that the council may now get behind him because it’s not true,” said Cllr King.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said they have launched an investigation into the Hippo Appeal.

“We are engaging with the trustees as part of our ongoing examination of this matter,” she said.

“We cannot comment further at this time.”

Cllr Dunton has said the cash is held in a ‘Hippo Appeal’ account – and has senior local accountant Adrian Bentley as a second signatory on it.

Mr Bentley is a partner in chartered accountants Edward Thomas Peirson & Sons, based at The Point Business Park on Rockingham Road, Market Harborough.

The Hippo Appeal was officially de-registered as a charity by the Charity Commission on September 9, 2009 after being registered on August 26, 1993 – a year after the initiative was launched.

Cllr Dunton is also chairman of the trustees of the major Harborough-based Howard Watson Symington Memorial Charity.

The Mail asked his fellow trustee and fellow Liberal Democrat councillor Barbara Johnson if it was right that he should hold such a key charity post amid the Hippo Appeal storm.

Cllr Johnson, who represents Market Harborough’s Logan ward on Harborough council, replied: “Absolutely.

“Roger Dunton is a man of integrity.

“He is respected, trustworthy and competent.

“And he has led our charity impeccably.”