More than £120,000 raised for two homeless men hailed as heroes after the Manchester Arena attack was never paid out to them, the Guardian has learned.
One, Chris Parker, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to stealing from victims he claimed to have helped, having been caught on CCTV rifling through their belongings. Everyone who contributed to a £52,000 GoFundMe campaign to help him will be refunded.
The other man, Steve Jones, who told reporters he ran towards the bomb site to help injured children, has scarcely been seen since. Two JustGiving campaigns were started to raise money to help him get off the streets: one raised £45,280 and another £31,562.
In a blaze of publicity, he was also offered a free flat after David Sullivan, the co-owner of West Ham United, pledged to pay his rent for six months.
None of the money went to Hartlepool-born Jones, who is also known as Steve Draper, after Sullivan and the people who started the crowdfunding campaigns failed to get hold of him.
Sullivan ended up donating the money directly to Barnabus, a Manchester-based charity that was working with Jones in the aftermath of the bomb.
“We were engaging with Steve initially and we worked with him together with a multi-agency approach to help him get off the streets. Unfortunately Steven didn’t accept that support and we haven’t seen him since,” a Barnabus spokeswoman said.
West Ham said David Sullivan Jr, the owner’s son, arranged meetings for Jones with Barnabus. “However, Steve failed to turn up to any of the meetings so they donated the money to the charity itself to help numerous homeless people,” a spokesman said.
Barnabus confirmed Sullivan Jr had made a donation but would not confirm the amount.
The £76,842 pledged for Jones via JustGiving was handed over to the people who started the campaign pages, according to the crowdfunding site.
A spokesman for JustGiving said: “Originally, the people who had set up the JustGiving pages for Steve had hoped to find a way to give him the money by setting up a trust. Steve was uncontactable, and it became apparent that this would not be possible. In the end, the page owners were paid the money from their pages and this was donated to local homeless shelters.”
The Guardian has been unable to verify how much of the money went to local homeless shelters. One charity that asked not to be named said it had received “no more than £1,000”.
The people who set up the pages have been contacted for comment via JustGiving but have not responded.
Jones, like Parker, was well known to those working with Manchester’s homeless community. When the Guardian met Jones in May, a few days after the bombing, he asked for several hundred pounds for an interview. When the reporter explained that the Guardian never pays for interviews, he kept lowering his offer until he was asking for “just 20 quid, a tenner”. He was a drug addict, he explained, and needed to score.
A formal interview never took place, but Jones said he was being helped by the owner of a bar in the Northern Quarter, Manchester’s nightlife district. He said the owner was going to administer the fund so that he didn’t blow it all at once.
On Thursday a manager at the bar said she had not seen him since the summer when he left his rucksack there. “He said he was going to go to rehab in Thailand and that the owner of West Ham was going to pay for it,” she said.
Sullivan Jr appeared on ITV’s This Morning a few days after the bombing and offered to pay six months’ rent for a house for Jones. Jones also appeared on the show. In an interview, he said: “People do look at homeless people and tarnish us all with the same brush and think that we haven’t got a heart. I saw people stepping over children that night, stepping over them to get away and leaving children, and to me that wasn’t the right thing to be done.”
Three weeks later Sullivan Jr reacted angrily when Jones was pictured apparently still living rough in Manchester. On 12 June he posted a video of a conversation with Jones in which Jones said he had been staying in a hotel since the bomb, paid for by the Sullivans, and that he was going to sign a tenancy agreement the following day.
This never happened, West Ham confirmed on Thursday, prompting the Sullivans to donate to Barnabus instead.
Barnabus urged members of the public to give directly to charities rather than to unverified online crowdfunding campaigns. It said in a statement: “Unfortunately, despite the very best intentions and people’s deep compassion to help others, giving money alone through crowdfunding or JustGiving pages to individuals without other intervention could have disastrous results, particularly if that individual is struggling with any kind of addiction. It also puts that person at risk from unscrupulous people who become aware that an individual has money, which can then make them even more vulnerable.
“We would therefore appeal to anyone who does wish to help the homeless that they would consider funding the charities who support those experiencing homelessness by providing the necessary support to help them move on with their lives.”