Thousands of pounds raised, so what happened to promise of bus for the homeless?
PUBLISHED: 06:34 06 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:48 06 April 2019
Questions have been asked over a fundraiser's failure to deliver a converted double-decker bus to give shelter to the homeless.
Eric Hewson, from Hellesdon, announced his plans to bring a bus, owned by Reading-based the Ark Project, to Norwich in November last year and said he needed to raise £15,000 to buy the bus and kit it out.
Fundraising began in the name of Harvey Lewis Truswell, who died in 2017 and helped the homeless, and with £12,000 given by an anonymous donor it appeared the project was on track.
But those involved with the bid, including Mr Truswell’s family, now have concerns over the fundraising and have carried out their own investigations.
A meeting was called between the interested parties on Wednesday night, at the Whiffler pub in Hellesdon, with Mr Hewson due to attend.
But he did not show up, he said due to family circumstances, leaving fundraisers with more questions.
Claudia McInally, a family friend of the Truswells, expressed concern that some of the £1,437 donated on a GoFundMe page had been spent on phone bills, takeaways, and withdrawn into Mr Hewson’s bank account.
But Mr Hewson said there was “other money going into that bank account” and that the donations would be ring-fenced for the appeal.
He said some of the money had covered a landline phone bill, while the payment to McDonald’s was made while at the Haymarket helping the homeless, when he may have bought someone a coffee.
He said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous, I’ve been [helping the homeless] for eight years.”
Mrs McInally said they had never seen the £12,000 reportedly donated by an anonymous benefactor, and questioned whether the money had ever been pledged.
The website for the appeal has since been shut down and the name of the appeal’s Facebook page changed to Homeless Bus Shelter Norwich.
Mr Hewson said: “Sara [Harvey’s mother] wanted me to close the Harvey Lewis Appeal down and I transferred the money into another account. I have not done anything wrong.”
Ms Truswell said: “Harvey was always helping the homeless, off his own back. He was like it from when he was a tiny little boy.”
“That’s why it hurts” she said, of the failure to deliver the bus in his memory.
Mrs McInally said when she contacted the Ark Project she was told no money had been for the bus and that it had been sold to a charity which was able to pay upfront. This was despite Mr Hewson posting on Facebook to say the project would open on April 1.
Ark Project chief executive Michael Longsmith said: “All I can say is he’s not paid us anything.
But Mr Hewson said: “[They] never sent me any bank details. I’ve been chasing it since February, I’ve been asking him for bank details.
“He wanted us to set up as a charity or a community interest company (CIC).”
Facebook messages did show Mr Hewson repeatedly asking for bank details, but also revealing that the full £15,000 for the bus had not been raised.
As recently as February 15 Mr Hewson posted: “So we raised the money and just brought the homeless bus. We [are] looking for someone who can tow back our bus from Reading to Norwich instead of driving it back.”
Asked about this he said he thought he was within reach of buying the bus.
“I thought I would send it straight away and just get it done,” he added.
Mr Hewson said he was now looking for a new bus and the project was still going ahead.
“I’ve still got that £12,000, that’s going in a CIC account.”
Mrs McInally said of the apparently empty promises to deliver the bus: “It has tarnished Harvey’s name and everyone else’s and their families. I feel very upset and it’s caused so much upset for Sara.”
The group said they had reported the case to Action Fraud who confirmed they were looking at it.
Ms Truswell added she wanted to continue fundraising in her son’s name but did not feel she could do so until this saga was behind her. She said: “Until this is cleared up we can’t carry on.”