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Poppy seller Olive Cooke 'felt distressed' by charity donation requests

Published 20/01/2016

Olive Cooke dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion
Olive Cooke dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion

One of Britain's oldest and longest-serving poppy sellers felt "distressed and overwhelmed" by the number of charities asking her for donations, a report has found.

Olive Cooke, 92, from Fishponds in Bristol, fell to her death in the Avon Gorge on May 6 last year, two days before the anniversary of VE Day.

Mrs Cooke dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion and is believed to have sold around 30,000 poppies.

A coroner ruled that great-grandmother Mrs Cooke - who suffered from depression, low mood and breast cancer - took her own life.

Mrs Cooke had previously told how she received up to 267 letters per month from charities asking for donations. Her family said this was not to blame for her death.

A report published by the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) has estimated that Mrs Cooke received up to 3,000 charity letters each year.

Some charities sold her details to others, responses from more than 1,500 charities revealed.

Andrew Hind, chairman of the FRSB said: "Mrs Cooke's experience demonstrates the inevitable consequences of a fundraising regime where charities have been willing to exchange or sell the personal details of donors to each other, and to commercial third parties.

"This created a situation where a donor to a number of charities could find themselves, after a period of time, receiving mail packs and phone calls from an ever-growing, and almost uncontrollable, number of charities."

Mr Hind said the individual charities had "no way of knowing" the cumulative effects of their contact or how many others might be approaching her at any one time.

"Mrs Cooke's family have indicated that the cumulative impact of the number of organisations mailing her led to her feeling distressed and overwhelmed," the report said.

Mrs Cooke's experiences were echoed in hundreds of complaints the FRSB received following her death, Mr Hind added.

An inquest into Mrs Cooke's death at Avon Coroner's Court in Flax Bourton in July last year did not mention charities.

In a statement, her family said: "We want Olive to be remembered for her incredibly kind, generous and charitable nature.

"Far from being a victim, she was a strong believer in the importance of charities in UK society and local communities.

"She found great comfort in the knowledge that her support could help someone else live a better life.

"At the same time, she was concerned about the amount of letters that she was receiving from charities and we are sure that she would have been very upset to know that her details were being shared or sold by some charities who she had agreed to support."

They welcomed the introduction of the Fundraising Preference Service, allowing people to opt out of all telephone and mail fundraising.

Mrs Cooke began selling poppies in 1938 aged 16, having been inspired by her father, who set up a Royal British Legion branch in Bedminster.

She devoted herself fully to the charity after husband Leslie Hussey-Yeo, a sailor in the Royal Navy, was killed in Italy in 1943, leaving her a war widow at the age of 21.

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