Celebrated Irish chef convicted over child pornography

Terry Kirby
Wednesday 22 January 2003 01:00

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.