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  1. ITV Report

Family say 'begging' charities not to blame for Olive Cooke's death

The family of one of Britain's oldest poppy-sellers has defended the charities which repeatedly contacted her asking for donations, saying they were not to blame for her death.

Dedicated Royal British Legion supporter and charity fundraiser Olive Cooke, aged 92, was found dead in Avon Gorge in Bristol two days before the anniversary of VE Day.

Olive Cooke died two days before VE Day Credit: SWNS

She received hundreds of so-called "begging letters" every month - but her family has revealed she left behind a suicide note which refuted claims she had been overwhelmed by the constant hounding.

Her granddaughter, 37-year-old nurse Jessica Dunne, said the "beautiful" note had outlined reasons including depression and issues around being elderly.

She said while the letters were intrusive and a nuisance, they played no part in her grandmother's decision.

Nan would have wanted the work of charities to be promoted. She believed that charities are the backbone to our communities, that they can be the scaffolding for us in our times of crisis. She believed that charities give us support, hope and courage when we need it the most.

– Jessica Dunne, granddaughter
Mrs Cooke dedicated 76 years of her life to selling poppies Credit: ITV News

I think that the amount of contact from charities was starting to escalate and get slightly out of control, and the phone calls were beginning to get intrusive, but there is no blame or suggestion that this was a reason for her death.

She had decided which charities she wanted to give to. She had her favourites and was not bumbling along and letting them grow and grow. She was very on-the-ball with money and gave to charities because she wanted to and could afford to - it was a passion.

– Jessica Dunne, granddaughter

Mrs Cooke was widowed by the Second World War aged just 21, five years after she began selling poppies.

At that point, she threw herself into charity work, and could be found standing in the door of Bristol Cathedral each year in the countdown to Remembrance Day raising money for the cause.

She would also visit other elderly people who were unable to leave their homes and were suffering from loneliness.

Her family now hope to set up a special fund in her name.

ive and her first husband Leslie, who was killed in the Second World War Credit: Olive Cooke

Meanwhile, Mrs Cooke's MP Kerry McCarthy has promised to speak to the Charities Commission about the barrage of letters she received, and the Institute of Fundraising Standards Committee said it will review the case to see whether any guidelines were breached.

Nan was not a victim. She did suffer with depression, but on the whole she was a happy soul. She was a brave and courageous woman throughout life, and courageous when deciding to end her life.

The reasons were mainly to do with health issues and lack of sleep, nothing to do with the charities. There was a headline that upset me, that she was 'killed by kindness' - it was not that at all.

The contact from charities does need looking at, and obviously with the methods of fundraising there are issues that need to be addressed and are being addressed now, which has got to be a good thing.

But their work should still be praised and they do such a great job. The contact from all the charities was a nuisance, but was not a causative factor in my nan's death.

– Jessica Dunne, granddaughter

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If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 08457 90 90 90 or visit their website.

For those in the Republic of Ireland, the number is 1850 60 90 90.

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