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Tower Of London Poppies Investigation

Daily Mail Newspaper - September 2014

We were contacted by a whistleblower who raised concerns that money from the Tower of London's poppy memorial was going to line the pockets of rich investors.

Our whistleblower strongly felt that as much of this money as possible should go to the nominated charities and no-one should profit from the lives of the war dead.

We tipped off the Daily Mail newspaper who launched an investigation and ran the following story.

Just a third of Tower poppy cash is going to help our heroes: So who WILL be pocketing the rest? 
  • Stunning war memorial will eventually include 888,246 ceramic poppies  
  • Hundreds of thousands of people have paid £25 for their own flower 
  • But only a third of the money is expected to go to good causes 
  • Just £8.75 from each poppy will go to charity, while £12.08 will cover 'costs'

Hundreds of thousands have paid £25 for one of the ceramic poppies being displayed at the Tower of London, assured that the proceeds will go to armed forces charities.

But it can be revealed today that only a third of the money raised is expected to go to good causes.

Just £8.75 from each poppy will reach the six charities, according to official internal estimates, while £12.08 will cover ‘costs’.

The Mail has learned this is about four times more than the likely expense of making the poppies – suggesting a large amount is being taken as profits.

A company set up by the Tower of London and the artist behind the project, Paul Cummins, could potentially receive millions from the artwork, meaning businessmen who helped fund it could make substantial returns.

The Mail tracked down one of the private financiers who lent money to help set up the project, Ben Whitfield, and put it to him that he was making an estimated profit of more than a million pounds. More...

Speaking from his home in the Alps, he said: ‘Yeah, well, I don’t think I’ve got any comment actually.’

And yesterday, the Tower of London repeatedly refused to rule out that somebody was profiting from the display, nor could it offer any assurance that profits being made by private investors were ‘fair and proportionate’.

The artwork, Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, was created to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. It will eventually include 888,246 ceramic poppies to represent all British or colonial military fatalities.

The duchess brushed away a tear when she planted her poppy at the official unveiling with Princes William and Harry last mon

According to the Tower of London website, ‘all net proceeds plus a guaranteed 10 per cent from every poppy sold will be shared equally amongst six service charities’.

But the Mail has established that ‘all net proceeds’ means the money that is left after private investors have taken a cut. The Tower of London refuses to reveal what percentage that cut is.

But calculations based on provisional official estimates show that of the £25 from each poppy, £8.75 is earmarked for charity, £4.17 goes to the taxman for VAT, leaving the majority of the money – £12.08 – to cover ‘costs’. 

If all the poppies are sold, and even allowing for 10 per cent ‘breakages or returns’, this means a company called Paul Cummins Ceramics Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red Community Interest Company, could receive almost £10million.

The poppies are hand-made by a small team and twice fired in Mr Cummins’ studio in Derbyshire. Allen Handley, who has worked in the ceramics industry for more than 50 years, estimated the poppies could be produced for as little as £2.

According to documents at Companies House, Mr Cummins took out a private loan from British financier Mr Whitfield to get the project started.

It is understood from two separate sources that the sum loaned was around £1million, with one suggesting Mr Whitfield could expect ‘north of a million pounds’ back on top of his investment – a profit of more than 100 per cent.

Asked how much money Mr Whitfield was getting, Mr Cummins replied: ‘I’m not saying.’ He claimed the terms of a contract he signed meant he was not allowed to speak about it, but he added that he himself was not making any money.

No one from the six armed forces charities – including the Royal British Legion, Help For Heroes and Combat Stress – has publicly criticised the way the project is being run, saying they are pleased with whatever money they receive. One charity source urged the public not to stop buying the poppies.

Yesterday Historic Royal Palaces, which runs the Tower of London, said that as well as the poppies’ manufacturing costs, there were additional expenses, including ‘a retail website and contact centre to handle thousands of sales, credit card fees, cost of installation, accounting, legal, insurance and transportation costs’. 

Asked if these costs could possibly add up to £10million, a spokesman said they were ‘substantial’.

She added: ‘Paul Cummins received some private funding at the earlier stages of the project. Arrangements for this funding were made directly between Paul Cummins and his investors, independently of Historic Royal Palaces.’