Celebrated Irish chef convicted over child pornography

One of Europe's most famous cookery schools faces an uncertain future after its co-founder severed all connections with it because of his conviction on paedophile charges.

Tim Allen began the internationally renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co Cork with his wife, Darina, now Ireland's most famous cook. He was caught in the same police inquiry that led to the arrest of the rock star Pete Townshend in Britain.

The conviction of Allen last week is also an embarrassment to the equally renowned Ballymaloe House Hotel, winner of countless awards, which is run by his family and founded by his parents, both Quakers.

But despite his actions the furore may not die down quickly. His relatively light sentence has been condemned by Irish politicians and children's charities while there are reports that some bookings for the school have been cancelled. He is also reported to have temporarily left his wife and four children.

Allen, 52, was arrested in May last year as part of the Irish element of the same worldwide police inquiry that has stemmed from the United States investigation into the Landslide portal, which allowed credit-card subscribers access to dozens of paedophile sites operated in Russia and Indonesia.

The extension of the investigation in Britain, known as Operation Ore, has led to the arrest of Mr Townshend and charges against two of the police officers involved in the Soham inquiry. Dozens more police officers, a judge, doctors, soldiers and a deputy prison governor were among those who have also been questioned.

Midleton District Court in Co Cork was told that police found hundreds of images of child pornography on three of Allen's computers, including one in the cookery school. After he pleaded guilty, the judge ordered him to do 240 hours of community service and pay a fine of €40,000 (£27,000) to a charity for street children in India.

John Deasy, the justice spokesman for Fine Gael, said Allen's wealth had spared him going to prison. He said: "Anyone convicted of a similar crime would undoubtedly end up with a jail sentence if they did not have the means to pay such a fine. It is extremely worrying that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor."

Although Allen has left the family home, there is no suggestion that the couple have split up and his wife said last week that she was standing by her husband, calling him "a good and decent and honourable man''.

On Sunday, the family issued a statement saying they were concerned at any suggestion that they had viewed the conviction as a trivial matter and expressing their abhorrence of child pornography. Allen also said: "What I did was wrong. I am deeply sorry and I will live with the shame of it for the rest of my life. I greatly appreciate the loving support of my wife and family. I unreservedly apologise for what I did." He said he was severing connections with all of the family businesses. The entire Allen family will find the shame difficult to live with. Their enterprises are known to food-lovers the world over and they are important figures in the local community. Allen is the oldest son of the six children of Myrtle and Ivan Allen, farmers who founded the hotel in the 1960s, which went on to gain many high ratings for both service and food in guides such as Michelin and Egon Ronay; in 1991 Harpers & Queens named it one of the hundred best hotels in the world. Myrtle Allen also launched her own line of foods and has written several cookbooks, all trading on the Ballymaloe name. Her husband died in 1998, but the hotel and farm are still family-run.

Her eldest son and his wife began the cookery school and garden, which is on a different site, in 1983. It was aimed at amateurs and budding professionals. While her husband stayed at home to raise their family, she went on to write cookery books, front several series on Irish television and become a staunch advocate for Irish food. In 1998, she presented A Year in the Ballymaloe Cookery School for Carlton Television in Britain.

Her husband's siblings and their children now also run several other enterprises in the area, including a shop, two cafés, a restaurant, a furniture-making business and a local tour company.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage