Monday, 14 October 2013

The Tragic Case of Simon Abbot: What the Mail did not say

I've been reading the Mail on Sunday article about Jersey which is very critical of Murray Norton and other people who criticised Simon Abbot's repeatedly failed attempts to create fund raising events. The Mail does not lay out any chronology, and as a result, they put the failure of all Mr Abbot's fund raising down to the intervention of Mr Norton. This most emphatically is not the case.

The Polish Murder in 2011

Murray Norton first became involved in looking into the fund raising affairs of Mr Abbot around August 2011. That is a fact which can be established with certainty. The outcome of the mass murder of a Polish family and friends by a Polishman in Jersey left the Island deeply in shock. I think that many people, myself included, wanted there to be some way in which we could show support.

Into this, Mr Abbot came with a Facebook page, prompting people to share a picture of a burning candle in darkness which was on the page's wall. He then began to talk about the need to raise money for the Polish relatives and Polish Community, and suggested that he was going to start a fund.

Because of various failed events which had preceded this, which I shall give more details about, this caused alarm bells to be raised by some people who had noted a pattern of fund raising and failed events, and wondered if Mr Abbot was suitable to collect funds for the Polish community. Mr Norton saw this, and offered to engage with Mr Abbot and meet him, to try and ensure that if Mr Abbot was involved, it was done properly, and involved the local Catholic Community, as naturally they were the obvious peoples to be involved.

So for a start, any blame for all events prior to August 2011 which Mr Abbot had promoted and failed to follow through, and cancelled, cannot be laid at Mr Norton's door. Mr Norton arranged to meet and discuss matters at St Thomas Catholic Church, St Helier, as a suitable venue as this is the principal church of the Island's Polish Community.

According to one source, Simon Abbot requested Murray Norton turned up alone, but he turned up instead with a few people to witness the meeting, and make sure it was properly recorded. As the Mail's report shows, accusations can be lobbied about indiscriminately, so Mr Norton very sensibly played safe and saw that the meeting was properly witnessed and recorded.

Because Mr Abbot had deleted pages from some Polish people from the Facebook page, and asked for money to be donated, there were some strong feelings from the Polish community against Mr Abbot, and threats made, so some officers from the States of Jersey Police were also present for his own protection. In no way was this, as Mr Abbot described it "a posse".

The outcome of that meeting was that Mr Abbot was dissuaded from taking any further steps with his solo fund raising for the Polish community. But he still kept trying to promote fashion shows or charity events, which is where his critics were simply pointing out his past endeauvous and warning people to take care when offering donations. When someone has a track record of asking for donations for failed events, it is surely right to examine matters more critically. An inability to make public any accounts for the trust also does not engender confidence.

But on the other hand, there may be evidence that Mr Norton also offered his services to help Mr Abbot dispose of any goods donated by celebrities for events which failed to transpire. As the Mail reports:

One of the online messages, purportedly written by the radio host, allegedly said: 'Simon, if you are reading this - which, my friends, he might be - give it up, come clean on the finances of the trust, put the items you claim to have from the famous to good use.I'll auction them for some people in real need instead of false events that help no one.'

Quite how that could be deemed harassment is something the Mail does not make clear. What they do not supply is any examples of persistent daily tweets harassing Mr Abbot, of the kind you would expect if there had been serious internet bullying. All they provide is hearsay - "Twitter campaign".


Clearly the request to "come clean on the finances", and the unwillingness of Mr Abbot to place any accounts for the Trust in the public domain did fuel suspicion that all was not well. I hope that any investigation into Mr Norton's conduct also examines to accounts of the trust to find exactly what transpired with the donations. Mr Abbot's father says that "he takings (for the trust) appear to have been pitiful. When he died, there was little money in his  bank account and the trust was £1,400 in the red. That doesn't make him a conman"

What we have to look at are the parameters of deception. It is pretty clear that Mr Abbot was not an outright conman, aiming to swindle people of goods and funds and make a tidy profit. But there are other kinds of deception, such as continuing to promote events while aware of financial mismanagement because of accounting ineptitude. That is not deliberate deception, but it is hiding the true state of affairs, perhaps because dealing with financial matters properly were beyond Mr Abbot's ability. There may well have been self-deception, an unwillingness to come to terms with the true state of affairs. That is something which needs further investigation.

It is notable here that the Samantha Abbot Trust was registered with the Jersey Financial Services Commission not as a charity but as a non-profit organisation. Mr Abbot turned down a request to join the Association of Jersey Charities, which would have required filing accounts.

An NPO (non profit organisation) can have charitable ends, or other ends; a rifle club, for instance, would qualify. These organisations produce accounts for their members, but do not, as far as I am aware, have any requirement to file them with the JFSC. But most -even the smallest - have a committee of at least three - a Chairman, a Secretary and a Treasurer. There is no evidence to date that the Samantha Abbot Trust had any of these; it seems to have been a one-man band. That is not in itself bad, but it does mean that there was a lack of financial oversight which a committee would have provided.

Asking an adult to show proof that charity money has been used, as Mr Norton may have done, and then warning others they may be trying to scam people is not the mark of a bully. All that Mr Abbot would have needed to do would be to provide certified accounts. By doing so, he would prove that money had left the trust for a good cause, and not lost in expenses and promotion. The question must be asked why he did not.

The Charity Auction of 2010

Now as to cancelled events, I consider first the Jersey Fashion Show. This is reported in June 2010 - which is over a year before Mr Norton became involved. The BBC reported: "The Jersey fashion show will see Jersey models showcase clothes donated from some of the countries biggest stars. Organisers are looking for 18 models, you must be over 18, at least 5'7" and have time on there hands to help with fundraising and organisation."

Simon Abbot told the BBC at the time "The response from celebrities has been amazing! The first one I contacted was Lily Allen, and her dress arrived the very next day. After Lilly Alan clothes have been arriving en-mass from stars like David and Victoria Beckham, Elle McPherson, Sugababes, Sadie Frost, Beverley Knight, Katie Price and more."

The event was cancelled, although the range of clothes donated was stupendous (see and to this day, I have been unable to find out what happened to the clothes donated, whether they were returned to their owners, dumped, or simply are sitting around somewhere in Jersey. The Mail failed to track down this, which is surprising, given the value of the goods donated. Here is a list of a few. These are just from the first page of five.

"David has donated a Dolce and Gabbana suit for the charity Fashion Show. Victoria Beckham has donated a Roberto Cavalli dress for the Fashion Show. George Clooney has donated a jacket from the film Michael Clayton. Kate Moss has donated a dress. Simon Cowell has donated a Calvin Klein top. Paris Hilton has donated three amazing dresses for the fashion show. "Super Model" Cindy Crawford has donated a Balenciaga dress. Naomi Campbell has donated a dress by the designer Marc Jacobs. Elle has donated lingerie for the Fashion Show. Lily Allen has donated an Emilio de la Morena dress for the Fashion Show. Leona Lewis has donated a stunning dress by the designer Alberta Ferretti. Usain the Triple Olympic Champion and Triple World Record holder has donated a signed top and shorts."

These were the clothes mentioned in the Mail article, and if Mr Norton did offer a year later (once he was aware of this) to help auction them off, for Mr Abbot to raise money for local charities, this certainly is not evidence of bullying, but the contrary, trying to help someone in a mess. I would have thought that the value for auction of all these would run to thousands of pounds.

The World's Largest Picnic of 2009
This event was organised for 2009, with the WI on board. According to his own press release, his first sponsor for the picnic was The Jersey Royal Company Limited who donated potatoes for 10,000 picnickers. This was followed by donations from Victor Hugo Limited, Airtel-Vodafone, Boots (7,500 sun scream), Highland Spring (10,300 bottles of water), Fitness First, Luminar Leisure, Channel Islands Bakery (10,000 finger rolls).

It was supposed to happen on Sunday, 30th August 2009, but was cancelled; the note of its cancellation on the Jersey WI was on the Saturday. What happened to the donations of goods was not followed up in any story, and I am unable to trace what happened to them.

Once more the event pre-dated the involvement of Mr Norton in Mr Abbot's affairs, this time by two years. Blame cannot be laid at Mr Norton's door.

World's largest Bikini shoot of 2009

Alongside the picnic, Mr Abbot had a busy year in 2009.  A record breaking event in August 2009, simultaneously with the picnic, to get into the Guinness Book of Records and raise funds. A CTV report notes that "Skating Stars Kyran Bracken and Donal MacIntyre signed posters ... and bikinis in town last week for the "Samantha Abbott Trust"."  This event was cancelled, and I have been unable to trace what happened to the signed bikinis.

Exeter Pampering Party: 2011

This does take place after Murray Norton was looking into the affairs of Mr Abbot in Jersey, but I have seen no evidence that he was aware of it at the time, having happened only a few months after his looking into the Polish fund raising.

The Express and Echo reported that "Tickets are on sale for the Pampering Tapas and Wine Party and models are being invited to audition on the night for a future event. The Pampering Party has been organised by Simon Abbott in memory of his sister, Samantha, who suffered from postnatal depression and committed suicide not long after giving birth." It notes that "Tickets for the pampering party are £39."

It also says "Simon is also planning a fashion party, for which outfits donated by dozens of celebrities from around the world, including Lily Allen and Paris Hilton, will be showcased." This indicates that he still had possession at this time of the goods donated for the cancelled Jersey event of 2010!

The event was cancelled prompting an investigation by the Express and Echo which reported back that

"THE organiser of a postponed event which aimed to raise money for women with postnatal depression was the driving force behind a similar event which failed to take place in Jersey. Simon Abbott, the founder of the Samantha Abbott Trust, had hoped to put on a show at Exeter's Southgate Hotel but it was cancelled at the 11th hour after volunteer helpers pulled out." And it goes on to note that "However, the Echo has learned that it is not a registered charity."

It seems clear from the article that the volunteer helpers were not happy with the way the show was being organised, and what seemed like a good idea on paper was not properly put into practice.


From what I have read, Simon Abbot was deeply distressed after his sister committed suicide as a result of post-natal depression. His way of coping was to channel his energies into fund raising, to promote the Samantha Abbot Trust, and so keep the memory of his sister alive.

From the list of failed charity ventures, he seems to have been both very poor at organising events, and bad at keeping financial records. There is a record of failures, and while I have been unable to confirm the veracity, I have also been told of events in Cornwall and Guernsey; that requires further investigation.

Given his track record for failure, and his involvement with the Polish community, Mr Norton and a group of people became concerned about his activities. While he was not a criminal con-man, he was none the less deceiving the public in the promotion of these events, and apparently taking goods for fund raising which were never used. His refusal to join the Association of Jersey Charities also bore witness to his unwillingness to submit to any outside disciplines and scrutiny.

Hence concerns raised by Mr Norton and others when Mr Abbot looked to future fund raising events seem to be very much legitimate concerns. There is no evidence of continual and mass harrassment by Tweets of the kind suffered by, for instance, the historian Mary Beard.

Some of the language used may have been provocative, but Mr Abbot's rebuffs against legitimate questions probably caused that. The essence of Twitter is brevity, and while the word "con" may not imply a criminal scam, that is not always apparent.

Instead, Mr Norton appears to have help out a helping hand on one occasion to help Mr Abbot with the celebrity fashion clothes which he must have had just lying around after the events which never transpired. That would seem to be commendable, not the subject for criticism.

Rather than responding to criticism by releasing accounts, Mr Abbot decided to sue those who had unwisely used robust language in describing him, and managed obtained legal aid to do so while those he had named found that they were denied legal aid. This is also a matter which should be investigated.

In a court statement, Mr Abbot said: "People think I am a conman, dishonest, and even that I have made up the death of my sister. Because he (Norton) works for the BBC everyone follows he (sic) and joins in."

There is no evidence at all that Mr Norton made any accusations against Mr Abbot that he made up the death of his sister. But while his charity fund raising events were commendable, was it not dishonest to keep asking people to donate gifts to events after he had failed to learn from past failures? There is a measure of self-deception apparent in his unwillingness to take any responsibility for these non-events.

The Mail on Sunday also failed to address the chronology of Mr Norton's involvement, which place an important part in any understanding of events, and from which it is clear that Mr Norton could not have been involved in cancellation of earlier events.

Mr Abbot's father is quoted as saying "Simon's schemes failed to raise any money, partly due to his own shortcomings as a charity organiser and partly because it was an impossible task to make a success of any project that kept being slated on the internet." But there were at least three events cancelled before the projects began coming under internet scrutiny by Mr Norton and others. And legitimate scrutiny does not amount to a "hate campaign".

From speaking to people who knew Mr Abbot, he seems to have been genuinely trying to raise money by fund raising events, but this was beyond his capability to do so. I have not been able to find if he was offered or refused any bereavement counselling, but it does seem to me that his way of coping was by fund raising events which he had no ability to follow through, but which became an obsessive pattern in his life for coming to terms with the death of his sister.

I would extend my condolences to his father, who clearly is also suffering from grief, but who perhaps has let his grief for his son itself be channelled into an outburst of hate against Mr Norton. I think I have stated here why I don't think the claims of the Mail are justified, and how they fail to give the whole picture about the tragic death of this deeply traumatised man, who only wanted to light his own kind of candle to remember his dead sister, even if it kept going out.


A more detailed background account of Mr Abbot's activities, with screen snapshots, and statements made by witnesses to his behaviour can be found at Maureen Morgan's blog


Nick Palmer said...

I don't know anything about this situation but such grandiose schemes and constant failures look to me like bipolar disease, which is terribly disabling and disruptive

Daren O'Toole said...

A well thought out and balanced response to the appalling Mail article. Well done Tony

TonyTheProf said...

If "Dearjon Letter" has an email account, please can he post it on a comment (which I will not publish) so I can discuss the contents of his posting.

Dearjon Letter said...

Here it is

TonyTheProf said...

Alas, it isn't!

TonyTheProf said...

So far Mr Abbott has failed to give me his email address to discuss my concerns and his disagreement in a civilised way.

Jo said...

I pity everyone involved in this, there is no happy ending. And no good deed goes unpunished - poor Murray.
(There currently is no charities law over here, so all we can do is register with JFSC and obtain a NPO number. No charity here has a registered charity number but may have an Association of Jersey Charities number.)