Manchester attack: £52,000 crowdfunded for homeless 'hero' who stole from victims to be returned

Lizzie Dearden
The money was raised before Parker was charged with stealing from victims: Matthew Pover

Members of the public who donated more than £50,000 for a homeless man hailed as a “hero” in the Manchester Arena attack will have their money returned after he admitted stealing from victims.

Chris Parker gave emotional media interviews claiming a woman died in his arms after an Isis supporter detonated a suicide bomb amid crowds leaving an Ariana Grande concert.

But disturbing CCTV footage undermined his account, showing him picking his way over bleeding victims and bodies before taking a purse and phone.

Parker pleaded guilty to stealing from injured Pauline Healey, whose 14-year-old granddaughter was dying metres away, and another teenage girl.

He also admitted one count of fraud by using Ms Healey’s debit card in McDonald’s.

Birmingham Crown Court heard that although Parker provided “some limited assistance” to victims, he “equally” took the opportunity to commit the thefts.

It was a far cry from the global praise that greeted Parker’s media interviews in the immediate aftermath of Salman Abedi’s atrocity on 22 May.

They inspired Michael Johns, a member of the public with no connection to the homeless man, to set up a crowdfunding page called “Help Chris Parker”.

More than £52,000 was raised for Chris Parker by well-wishers

Quoting a news report of the defendant’s account of his “selfless” actions after the blast shook the foyer where he frequently begged, Mr Johns wrote: “Homelessness in this country is a widespread tragedy but it is absolutely unacceptable that someone who can react so heroically in such a terrifying situation should be on the streets.

“Hopefully this campaign will go some way to helping Chris off the streets and also show our gratitude for his actions.”

The GoFundMe page quickly gathered international support and attention, with donations spiralling to reach £52,539 from 3,798 people.

It remained online as Parker admitted theft and fraud with a judge telling him he was “most likely” to be jailed when he next appears in court on 30 January.

A spokesperson for GoFundMe told The Independent it remained “in full control of the funds” and that they had never been passed to Parker.

“We’re working with our payment partners on refunds now, which will be in full to every donor with no fees taken,” he added.

“We’ll get them to donors as soon as possible, which should be within 10 working days.”

Mr Johns said it was “only appropriate” for the page to be closed and all donations returned.

“I do this without any personal judgement on Chris and with complete respect to the ongoing court proceedings,” he wrote.

“Whereas I do believe Chris has a right to be rehabilitated and have help to turn his life around, prison would be a waste of time and money otherwise; I also must take in to account the integrity of the donations made.”

Social media users expressed outrage that the fund remained online following Wednesday’s hearing, with many calling for the money to be donated instead to victims of the Manchester attack or a homeless charity.

Mr Johns said it was impossible for him to transfer the £52,000 to another cause under GoFundMe policies but encouraged people to make their own donations.

“I would like to extend my sympathies to his victims that night and also apologise to them for any distress this campaign may have caused them whilst they continue to recover and grieve,” he added.

“Regardless of the outcome, this was still a fine example of what can be achieved when we refuse to be cowed by those who seek to divide.”

Separate crowdfunding pages were set up for Stephen Jones, another homeless man who rushed to help victims of the Manchester attack and described pulling shrapnel from the faces of injured children.

It is the latest controversy over crowdfunding pages, seeing host websites face criticism for failing to fact-check causes or monitor what donations are used for, and disputes break out between beneficiaries.

Crowdfunding has been used for products that never emerged, “cancer sufferers” that did not have cancer and exploited by fraudsters and extremists.