Captain Tom Moore: How NHS hero’s triumphant legacy became mired in controversy

Decorated Second World War veteran turned pandemic hero raised £33m for NHS before passing away in 2021 but the foundation set up in his name is facing awkward questions, Joe Sommerlad reports

Monday 21 August 2023 09:49 BST
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Captain Tom Moore given gold Blue Peter badge

Captain Tom Moore must have been as surprised as anyone when he found himself, for a short time at least, the most famous man in Britain and an instant national treasure at the grand old age of 99.

A decorated veteran of the Second World War, he served in the India and Burma campaigns before becoming an armoured vehicle instructor and, later, the managing director of a concrete manufacturer.

Like the rest of us, Captain Tom found himself confined at home when the coronavirus pandemic first struck in March 2020, as then-prime minister Boris Johnson imposed strict lockdown measures to try to stop the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

Captain Sir Tom Moore became a national hero in a time of crisis

Frustrated by isolation as the world came to a complete standstill – and with the prospect of his 100th birthday upcoming on 30 April – Captain Tom resolved to put his energies to use by raising money for the beleaguered NHS. At the time, under-resourced frontline healthcare workers were fighting valiantly to hold back the tide of infections and treat those who had already fallen ill.

The nonagenarian duly let it be known that he intended to walk 100 lengths of his Bedfordshire garden, aided only by his walking frame, before he reached his century, setting out on 6 April with 24 days to complete the lockdown feat.

“Tom’s 100th Birthday Walk for the NHS” initially hoped to raise £1,000 in donations for NHS Charities Together but quickly became a sensation, its first target met in just four days before it was upped first to £5,000 and then to £500,000 as his admirable effort became an international cause celebre thanks to intense social media interest.

Setting a pace of ten lengths of his 27-metre lawn per day, Captain Tom easily achieved his goal of 100 by 16 April, cheered on by a socially-distanced guard of honour from the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, inspiring him to vow to keep on going, pledging to make it 200 lengths before he hit triple digits.

That occasion also saw him serenaded with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Michael Ball, which, just a day later, was released as a single by Decca in support of the veteran’s charitable efforts and raced to number one by 24 April, improbably toppling “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd from the top spot.

By the time his birthday dawned two weeks later, Captain Tom was a bonafide star, with millions of people tuning in as BBC Breakfast broadcast his final length live.

The Royal Mail was so overrun with birthday cards for him that the service had to take on 20 extra volunteers to sort through them while the RAF sent a Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire roaring over his house in Marston Moretaine in celebration of the milestone.

When the JustGiving page for his fundraising endeavour closed in triumph at the end of that day, he had raised an astonishing £32.8m (or £39.3m, including Gift Aid) for NHS Charities Together, accounting for an astonishing 20.25 per cent of the £162m raised by the charity’s Covid-19 Urgent Appeal.

Captain Tom receiving his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in July 2020

The money raised by Captian Tom was duly delivered to the organisation’s 241-member charities in several tranches, the first of which saw each receive £35,000, totalling £8.4m.

A second, larger wave of funding was distributed on the basis of how many staff each trust had on its payroll to ensure the cash was apportioned fairly according to the size of the institution in question, with £7 allotted per employee.

By 19 May, it was announced that Captain Tom – already the recipient of a special Pride of Britain award and a rare gold Blue Peter badge, among many accolades – would be knighted in a ceremony that subsequently took place at Windsor Castle on 17 July presided over by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in her first official public appearance of the pandemic.

An icon of British public-spiritedness in the face of adversity, celebrated across the land with everything from buses and trains to police dogs named in his honour, Captain Tom Moore died on 2 February 2021 shortly after having been hospitalised with pneumonia and, inevitably, Covid-19.

The first suggestion that the legacy of his fundraising exploits might be rather more complicated emerged a year later when it was reported on 8 February 2022 that The Captain Tom Foundation, incorporated on 5 May 2020 to administer the donations collected from his inspirational walks, had spent more on management fees than it had released in grants.

Financial disclosures filed by the new organisation to the Charity Commission revealed that, of the £1,096,526 it had earned between 5 May 2020 and 31 May 2021, just £160,000 had been released as charitable grants (the Royal British Legion, Mind, Helen & Douglas House and Willen Hospice had each received £40,000).

While the bulk of the remaining cash, £695,889, remained in reserve, it transpired that £162,336 had gone on management fees, £32,275 on governance, £31,204 on admin costs, £8,280 on IT and £6,542 on the upkeep of the foundation’s office.

The foundation justified its high administrative costs in its accounts filing by explaining: “As a newly established charity, expenditure has been incurred in building the team, which for some months worked on a voluntary basis until funds were forthcoming.

“During this period, we also incurred costs in appointing The Philanthropy Company who provided expert support on governance and fundraising initiatives as well as working with our charity partners to identify initiatives that the foundation could support and which would drive value and public benefit.”

Captain Tom’s daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore

A spokesperson subsequently said in a statement: “In the period 5 May 2020-31 May 2021, the foundation was dedicated to combating loneliness, championing education and equality and supporting those facing bereavement. During this time, we distributed donations to hospices and other charities close to Captain Tom’s heart.

“We also raised awareness through events such as Walk with Tom (Dec 2020) and The Captain Tom 100 (April 2021), which received 12.8 billion impressions on social media worldwide, got many people active and helped fight loneliness.

“As a charity in our infancy, we focused on fundraising for other charities close to Captain Tom’s heart and are very proud that through this campaign that we led, £1.4m was raised in three days, this went directly to charities.”

Three days later, The Independent reported in the first of a series of exclusives that the foundation had paid £54,039 to two companies owned by Captain Tom’s daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, and her husband Colin, one of which was registered only days before the charity was incorporated, and that the foundation had been made the subject of a live regulatory compliance case by the watchdog.

On 18 February, we reported that the foundation had been blocked by the Charity Commission from appointing Ms Ingram-Moore as its CEO on a £150,000 a year salary, which would have accounted for 13.68 per cent of its first-year income.

On 24 February, we broke the news that a “Captain Tom Day” event, set to be hosted by Dame Esther Rantzen, had been postponed until the compliance case had been concluded.

Captain Tom at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire

Responding to the growing controversy on 3 March, Ms Ingram-Moore appeared on ITV’s This Morning to insist she was devoted to safeguarding her father’s memory, saying: “It’s clear our accounts are there to be seen but we’re not hiding anything, there’s nothing wrong, we haven’t made any false action and I genuinely think the vast majority of people know that.

“Those clickbait headlines have been destructive and have put the foundation at peril.”

She added: “I think we have been incredibly naive, but I don’t think that means we’re bad. I think we’re wholesome good people and we run businesses, we understand.

“I think we stepped into this for love, for humanity, for allowing as many people as possible access to his legacy. We never thought of the darkness, never crossed our minds.”

On 30 June, the Charity Commission announced it would formally investigate the foundation over allegations that the family had personally profited from it following the emergence of evidence of potentially serious misconduct.

The inquiry planned to look into concerns that one of the private companies owned by the Ingram-Moores, Club Nook Ltd, might have profited by trademarking the name “Captain Tom” (the couple told the watchdog this had occurred in April 2020 prior to the foundation’s formation), as well as other potential conflicts of interest.

Captain Tom’s daughter says ‘we’re not hiding anything’

Helen Stephenson, the chief executive of the Charity Commission, said at the time: “The late Captain Sir Tom Moore inspired the nation with his courage, tenacity and concern for others. It is vital that public trust in charity is protected, and that people continue to feel confident in supporting good causes.

“We do not take any decision to open an inquiry lightly, but in this case our concerns have mounted. We consider it in the public interest to examine them through a formal investigation, which gives us access to the full range of our protective and enforcement powers.”

The Independent subsequently reported that a Captain Tom-branded rose would be removed from sale until the inquiry had concluded, following on from the withdrawal of a new line of gin in May, which was alleged to have been in breach of charity law.

The following October, a climate activist with the group End Private Jets was arrested after pouring what she claimed was “liquidised human faeces” over a memorial devoted to Captain Tom at Thistley Meadow in Derbyshire, a possible indication of the astonishing about-turn in public feeling in light of the negative stories swirling around the organisation set up in the veteran’s memory.

The saga resumed in July 2023 when Ms Ingram-Moore was accused of using her late father’s name as an excuse to build a spa and swimming pool complex at her home.

The Sun reported that she and her husband had informed local planners in their application that they wanted to build an office for The Captain Tom Foundation but the resulting submission seemed to be for a 50ft by 20ft pool house complete with changing rooms, toilets and showers.

Ms Ingram-Moore’s home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire

Central Bedfordshire Council told The Independent a retrospective planning application had been refused and an enforcement notice issued for demolition.

The charity’s trustees told The Sun: “At no time were The Captain Tom Foundation’s independent trustees aware of planning permissions made by Mr and Mrs Ingram-Moore purporting to be in the foundation’s name.

“Had they been aware of any applications, the independent trustees would not have authorised them.”

A spokesperson for the charity commented: “At this moment in time, the sole focus of The Captain Tom Foundation is to ensure that it cooperates fully with the ongoing Statutory Inquiry by the Charity Commission.

“As a result, The Captain Tom Foundation is not presently actively seeking any funding from donors.

“Accordingly, we have also taken the decision to close all payment channels whilst the Statutory Inquiry remains open.

“Once the findings of the Statutory Inquiry have been communicated, The Captain Tom Foundation will be in a better position to make a decision in relation to its future, but for now, our main priority is to assist the Charity Commission with its enquiry.”

Most recently, the BBC’s Newsnight reported in August that Ms Ingram-Moore had been paid thousands of pounds for serving as a judge at the 2021 and 2022 Virgin Media O2 Captain Tom Foundation Connector Awards, with the money paid to another of her companies, Maytrix Group, rather than the foundation she was seemingly representing.

When questioned by the BBC, Ms Ingram-Moore replied by email: “You are awful. It’s a total lie.”

She followed that up six minutes later with another message, saying: “Apologies. That reply was for a scammer who has been creating havoc.” No further explanation for her conduct was offered, however.

A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “When payment was made, we were not aware of any concerns about Maytrix or the Captain Tom Foundation that have since come to light after our campaign and relationship with Captain Tom finished.”

A spokesperson for the foundation’s trustees told the BBC: “The Captain Tom Foundation is aware of the commercial arrangements made by Hannah Ingram-Moore with Virgin Media O2 in respect of the ‘Virgin Media Captain Tom Foundation Connector Awards’.

“This matter is subject of an ongoing internal investigation. The Charity Commission has been notified of the foundation’s review of this matter and the foundation will share its findings once the investigation has concluded.”

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