The tragic tale of Katie Cutler and Alan Barnes


In January 2015 Alan Barnes, a disabled pensioner who is registered blind and stands just 4ft 6in tall, was assaulted outside his home.  The man who assaulted him was caught and is currently serving a 4 year sentence.

The case caught the public imagination when Katie Cutler set up an online appeal and raised over £300,000 for Alan.  The story received national coverage across traditional and social media and, in recognition of her undoubtedly fantastic work, Katie was awarded the BEM in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Unfortunately this was not to be the happy ending to the story that it should have been and Katie found herself in court last week being found liable for outstanding bills related to the fundraising. 

Katie had engaged a PR firm to help with the appeal and ran up bills of more than £6,500.  The PR company had agreed to do the work pro bono until Katie established a charitable foundation which would cover the costs.  However, when Katie was unable to realise her intention of setting up the foundation, the PR company understandably decided to try to recover their long outstanding costs elsewhere.  As Katie had engaged the firm herself she was legally liable for the bill.

The real tragedy of this sorry part to the story is that it could so easily have been avoided.

There are many organisations that could have helped Katie back in early 2015.  Her local Community Foundation might have provided the necessary administration; another charity with shared values could have helped.  There was no need for her to set up an expensive apparatus and just a little help at the start would have avoided the problem.

The simple lesson from this story to all would-be philanthropists is to plan;

determine what you want to achieve

  • research all available help from the outset
  • understand who else is working on the same outcomes
  • decide how best to achieve your goal

The lesson is the same whether you are a major international charity or a small local appeal.

Unfortunately Katie, clearly a kind, generous natured person, has said that this experience has influenced her decision never to commit to charity work again.  I hope that over time she changes her mind.