- This story has been updated: see final paragraph
The Prime Minister has joined those expressing concern about the actions of charities in relation to the death of 92 year-old Olive Cooke, whose body was discovered in the Avon Gorge near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol last week. An inquest is due to open next week.
Cooke was one of Britain’s longest-serving poppy sellers and had volunteered for the Royal British Legion in the role for 76 years. Many national newspapers ran the story of her death prominently on Friday, many of them linking it to the volume of charity fundraising requests she received.
David Cameron said in a statement on Saturday: "Olive Cooke was an incredible woman who worked tirelessly for the charities she supported and I was pleased to recognise her with a Points of Light award in November for being Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller.
"I know there is a code that is meant to protect people from feeling pressured by charities and I hope the Fundraising Standards Board will look at whether any more could have been done to prevent this."
Points of Light awards are made daily to outstanding volunteers around the country. They were developed in partnership with the Points of Light programme in America, which was established by President George W Bush and has the support of President Obama.
Cooke had given an interview to the Bristol Post newspaper in October, in which she said she had received 267 fundraising letters from dozens of charities in one month.
The Daily Mail newspaper featured the story of her death on its front page on Friday, saying she had "jumped to her death after being hounded by dozens of charities begging for her money".
The story quoted Kathryn King, Cooke’s daughter, who said that charities including the mental health charity Mind would phone her mother asking for money even if she was already donating to them.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said in a statement that the charity was saddened by Cooke’s death and was looking into the issue. "We would be very concerned if at any time we have acted inappropriately," he said. "We will be looking into what might have happened in this case."
The story also appeared on the front page of The Sun newspaper, which said that she had killed herself after being pestered by charities.
The RBL said that it had sent Cooke five direct mailings since September 2013 and she had not received a telemarketing phone call from the charity since 2009.
David Lowe, area manager at the RBL, said: "We are very sad to learn of the passing of Olive Cooke, whom we came to respect and admire over more than seven and a half decades of service to the Royal British Legion.
"Olive’s remarkable efforts over the years should be highly commended. She will be greatly missed, but not forgotten. Our thoughts and condolences are with Olive’s friends and family at this time."
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, expressed his condolences to Cooke’s family and said in a statement today: "All members of the Institute of Fundraising sign up to the Code of Fundraising Practice, which sets the standards for all forms of fundraising.
"It is absolutely clear in our code that if an individual no longer wants to receive communications from a charity, in whatever form, they simply need to let the charity know.
"If the charity then continues to contact the member of the public it is a breach of our code, and the person can take their complaint to the Fundraising Standards Board, which will investigate and, if needs be, adjudicate against the charity."
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said the IoF’s code stated that charities should not pressurise the public and must be mindful of how they fundraised among people who might be vulnerable.
"The last thing that charities would want to do is to cause distress to the public when they fundraise," he said.
- The story was updated on May 17 to include the statement on the subject from the Prime Minister