The man who left £2.5 million to Sinn Féin in his will held significant assets in England, Singapore, New Zealand and elsewhere while living in a caravan, it has emerged.
William Edward Hampton, a car mechanic and driver with virtually no public profile, last week was named as the individual behind what is by far the biggest donation in the history of Northern Irish politics.
His will – which is now a public document – reveals that it was made just a month before the IRA ceasefire in 1997 and that he named two individuals who had previously held senior IRA positions as its executors. The executors were Joe Cahill, one of the Provisional IRA’s most senior figures, and Dessie Mackin, who was convicted of IRA membership during the Troubles. At the time when the will was made, both men were Sinn Féin’s treasurers.
Yesterday the only surviving signatory of the will, legal secretary Carmel Brady, told the News Letter that she remembered Mr Hampton arriving alone at the solicitor’s office where she worked, with the Englishman saying that “he was only visiting the area”.
Last night the Electoral Commission restated that it had no concerns about the money and had no intention of launching an investigation.
But yesterday the TUV leader Jim Allister wrote to the National Crime Agency, drawing to its attention to the “inextricable” link between the IRA and Sinn Féin at the time.
The size of the donation to Sinn Fein is much larger than originally reported, the probate document for William E Hampton’s will has reveals.
Last week the Electoral Commission reported that the party had received a total of £1.5 million in two instalments since Mr Hampton’s death in a Welsh nursing home in January 2018.
However, the probate document states that his total assets were almost £2.6 million.
Once the expenses of the process and the small payments to other individuals are made, that is likely to leave about £2.5 million for Sinn Féin.
The Press Association has reported that there was litigation around some of the assets, although it did not specify the nature or location of the legal battle.
Last week Sinn Féin objected to questions about the source of Mr Hampton’s wealth, saying that he was from “a wealthy family”.
The bequest is more than five times the size of the previous record known donation — the £435,000 given to the DUP to promote Brexit in 2016.
Last week the News Letter asked Sinn Féin whether it knew how a retired mechanic came to have such a large sum of money and, given the extraordinary scale of the donation, what it had done to satisfy itself that the money was legitimate.
In a brief statement the party responded: “Mr Hampton was from a wealthy family, so for you to question the legitimacy of his wealth without any foundation whatsoever falls well short of the objective standard we would expect from a professional journalist.
“As with all donations required due diligence was carried out by Sinn Féin and in full compliance with the rules of the Electoral Commission.”
Mr Hampton’s will – which was signed by him, a solicitor and a legal secretary – referred to him being “of no fixed abode as I am living in my mobile home in Ireland” but gave previous addresses at Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire and a solicitor’s address in Aberystwyth in Wales and an address in Durrus, Co Cork.
The two-page typed document referred to “my assets in Ireland, England, Singapore and New Zealand” as well as “other assets I may have anywhere else in the world”.
Listing Mr Cahill and Mr Mackin as the executors of his will, he gave 44 Parnell Square, Dublin as their addresses – the location of Sinn Féin’s southern headquarters.
As well as providing for his debts, funeral and testamentary expenses to be paid, the will only provided for a few thousand pounds of his fortune to go to anyone other than Sinn Féin.
He left £5,000 to Rosalind Morton of Lowestoft, £1,000 to Jim White of Hornchurch, £1,000 to Labour MP Denis Skinner and £1,000 to the former Private Eye journalist Paul Halloron.
Mr Hampton then said that the rest of his estate should go to Sinn Féin, and set out detailed instructions as to what should happen if Sinn Féin was to split.
He said that the money was to go to Sinn Fein “to cover election expenses, to fund Sinn Fein offices and advice centres and to aid republican prisoners and their families in both Ireland and Britain”.
He went on: “For the purposes of clarification the organisation which I intend to benefit is commonly known as Provisional Sinn Féin to distinguish it from Republican Sinn Fein.
“In the event that the organisation which is now known as Sinn Féin should cease to be in existence or should have split or taken on a different name at the date of death then I direct that my executors and trustees are to apply my money to the political party to which Mr Gerry Adams, MP then belongs.”
He said that if Mr Adams had died by that point that the money should go to the republican or nationalist party with the largest number of elected councillors in “the six counties” – with the exception of the SDLP.
At the weekend, The Sunday Independent reported that “sources paint a picture of a man who could only be described as a loner. He always lived alone and set up home in a number of countries, including a brief time spent in Co Cavan. It is also believed he lived abroad for a time including a period in France.”
It added: “He has been described as a mechanic but, according to those who knew him, he liked to ‘tinker’ with cars.”
Yesterday the Electoral Commission said it had “no plans” to investigate the circumstances of the gift to Sinn Fein.
The commission said: “We are not investigating the donation received by Sinn Fein from Mr Hampton. The donation reported by the party was permissible as the donor was on a UK electoral roll within the five-year period prior to his death.”
It added: “Political parties must report all donations and loans over £7,500 if accepted by the central party and over £1,500 if accepted by an accounting unit.
“Political parties must only accept donations from permissible donors. It is the responsibility of political parties to check the permissibility of the donations they receive and to ensure they have systems in place to maintain their compliance with the law.”
Mairia Cahill, the grand niece of Joe Cahill and now an SDLP member, said that her great uncle “had responsibility for finance for a number of different outfits, if I can put it like that” and she was very close to him but that he had never mentioned Mr Hampton to her.