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Mysterious Sinn Fein donor William Hampton gifts party extra £500k


William Edward Hampton
William Edward Hampton
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Sinn Fein has received another huge donation of almost £500,000 from mysterious English benefactor William Hampton, who previously gifted the party £1.5 million.

Mr Hampton died at the age of 82 in a nursing home in Wales in January 2018, leaving an estate of around £2.6m.

Earlier this year, Sinn Fein received a £1.5m windfall from the reclusive ex-market trader. It was reported that he had mental health issues and at one stage mutilated himself.

The BBC reported the republican party has received a second tranche of cash, which will be recorded in an updated version of the Electoral Commission's list of political donations which is due to be published later this month.

At a combined £2m, this is the largest ever donation made to a political party in Northern Ireland.

Former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland said the donation will give Sinn Fein a "massive electoral advantage".

"In terms of electoral expenses, in 2017 the central accounts for Sinn Fein show a total of a quarter of a million pounds. So you're taking about a substantial impact through the donation from Mr Hampton," he told the BBC.

Mr McCausland also said that, as there are limits to how much parties can spend per candidate during election campaigns, the money would aid Sinn Fein in the periods between elections.

"They [Sinn Fein] are able to do a lot more than any other political party by using the money they have received from Mr Hampton and from America, and from other sources, between campaigns. To employ extra staff, carry out pieces of research and undertake other activities that otherwise would not be possible," he said.

After news emerged of the windfall in August, questions were raised about William Hampton's mental health and his motivations for gifting Sinn Fein, a party he seemingly had no links to, the money.

Written in June 1997, Mr Hampton's will shows he made Sinn Fein national treasurers, Dessie Mackin and Joe Cahill, its executors and trustees.

He also left sums of £1,000 to Labour MP Dennis Skinner and Private Eye journalist Paul Halloran.

In relation to Sinn Fein, the will states: "All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate of whatsoever nature and whatsoever situate, to include my assets in Ireland, England, Singapore and New Zealand and other assets I may have anywhere else in the world, I give, devise and bequeath to my executors and trustees... the political party in the Republic of Ireland known at this time as Sinn Fein."

The donation was intended 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".

Mr Hampton said that if Sinn Fein was no longer in existence at the time of his death, the money should go to "the political party to which Mr Gerry Adams, MP, then belongs".

If Mr Adams was already dead or no longer a member of a political party, the money was to go to "the republican or nationalist party in the six counties other than the SDLP which has the largest number of elected local councillors".

It has emerged that, at the time of his death, Mr Hampton was suffering from schizoaffective disorder, a condition which can cause depression, hallucinations and delusions.

He is known to have spent extended periods of time living in his camper van in Ireland and resided in West Cork in the 1980s, purchasing a property in a townland near Bantry.

According to The Times, the reclusive millionaire sliced off his own penis after he was accused of having an affair with another man's wife, resulting in a stay at a psychiatric unit.

One Mr Hampton's friends, Dave Morton, told the BBC he made the donation to Sinn Fein to say "up you" to British establishment, who he felt had wronged him.

"He had a really wicked sense of humour and he would have thought that was funny," Mr Morton said.

"Basically no one helped him and he got it into his head that the establishment was out to get him.

"He never even mentioned Irish politics. All he said was when he was over in Ireland he generally had a good time."

When questioned about Mr Hampton's well-being before his death, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said it would be "inappropriate" to discuss his mental health.

"I did not know Billy Hampton but judging from people who did know him he considered this to be a very robust statement against the political establishment," she added.

"He obviously saw in Sinn Fein an organisation that is full square for Irish unity, for progress and for peace and prosperity in Ireland but also a party that stands full square against the political establishment.

"I can only say Billy was a rebel, a rebel with a cause. He clearly shared our goals."

Mr Hampton had his ashes buried in Hannahstown Cemetery in west Belfast.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: "We will be publishing donations reported by political parties in Q3 [quarter three] 2019 on 26 November. As such it would not be appropriate for us to comment on this before then.

"There is no limit on the size of donations a party can accept. However, donations over £7,500 (or smaller donations from the same donor that add together to exceed that threshold) must be reported to us."

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