Woodward cash row grows

SUPPORTERS of the former au pair Louise Woodward said yesterday they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the pounds 40,000 paid to the family by a tabloid newspaper.

The revelation of the payment to her parents Sue and Gary Woodward, confirmed yesterday by the Daily Mail's managing editor, follows a categorical denial by Woodward last week that she had received any payment for her story.

The money was paid last November during the height of the trial drama unfolding in Boston, Massachusetts. On 30 October, Woodward was found guilty by a jury of the murder of baby Matthew Eappen but four days later the Daily Mail ran an exclusive interview with her parents, prompting speculation that money had changed hands.

At this point, Woodward was (and remains) a convicted criminal in the eyes of the law and a payment would be in breach of the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice which forbids payment to convicted criminals except in cases where it may be in the public interest.

The official fund for Woodward was set up on 7 December last year as the donations from wellwishers rapidly swelled to around pounds 200,000. Before that, a more informal fund set up by a family friend, Jean Jones, had handled the money, most of which flooded in to the Rigger public house in Woodward's home village of Elton in Cheshire and which was designed to fund her defence and family visits to the United States.

It remains unclear just where the money from the Daily Mail went. None of the original fund organisers, nor those who replaced them in December, can say whether it was put into the general pot of donations handled by Mrs Jones, whether it was used to pay off some of Woodward's bills or whether her parents retained it. Woodward's mother, Sue, has consistently denied receiving any money from newspapers.

In Elton, the Rev Tim Barker, speaking on behalf of the Rev Ken Davy, chairman of the Woodward Trust Fund, said yesterday: "No money from a newspaper or any other media has been paid to the trust since it was formed on 7 December last year."

He said that donations had come from all over the world and there may well have been a proper record kept. But, he added the trustees were not able to comment on payments made before the trust was set up.

Mrs Jones, who wrote a scathing letter to the trustees when the new trust fund was set up in December, was unavailable for comment. However, earlier this month she said that money "became God" to Sue Woodward as the worldwide appeal gathered momentum.

She alleged that while initially Mrs Woodward's sole concern was for her daughter, later, her perspective changed and said her former friend had ridden "roughshod" over those who had helped her.

A week earlier, Mrs Woodward denied an allegation that she had forged an invoice from her daughter's former solicitor, Elaine Whitfield Sharp.

Sandra McCabe, a neighbour and key member of the support group, said that she did not know the facts of the latest row and did not want to discuss it. Yesterday she was reported as saying: "Sue always said she was not going to get anything in all of this."

The payment was confirmed by the Daily Mail's managing editor, Lawrence Sear, who said it was made because the family "considered it necessary to receive payment in order to help fund their legal battle".

The Woodwards have consistently denied seeking to profit or receiving payment in relation to the case. On 12 November, two days after the guilty verdict was commuted to one of manslaughter, Woodward said: "I have heard rumours that I have sold my story or rights to my story to the news media. I want to set the record straight. I have done no such thing."

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