UK & World News
Joan Edwards' Donation Handed To Treasury
The Tories and Lib Dems have given up an elderly spinster's £520,000 bequest after a row about it being split between the coalition parties.
Former nurse Joan Edwards left the cash in her will to "whichever Government is in office at the date of my death".
After some initial confusion about how to split it, the Tories pocketed £420,576 and the Lib Dems £99,423 based on their number of ministers and MPs.
But there was consternation that it was treated as a party donation instead of part of the Government's finances and could therefore have been spent on campaigning.
Labour branded the move "dodgy", although both parties insisted they were only informed they were beneficiaries of the will and were not aware of the details.
Just 24 hours after Ms Edwards's name was first revealed by the Electoral Commission, they rowed back and pledged to pass the money to the Treasury.
The will had said said it should go to "whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit".
Neighbours of Ms Edwards said she would have wanted the money to help ministers do "something good", perhaps to do with children.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve, a Tory MP, also became embroiled in the row after it emerged his office was approached by the solicitors acting as Ms Edwards' executors.
Sources suggested they had approached the Attorney General's office with "vague" questions about how to determine the beneficiary.
A spokesman said the Treasury Solicitor had replied on Mr Grieve's behalf suggesting "further steps the executors might wish to take to identify the correct recipient of the bequest".
"It did not, nor could have, advised to whom the bequest should go," he said.
The Treasury Solicitors Office later added that it had suggested the executors contact the Tories, Lib Dems and Treasury "to establish whether any of those organisations have a claim on the will".
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "The decision to give the money to the political parties was taken solely by the executors of the will.
"The party accepted the donation in good faith on the advice of the executors and on the understanding that they had sought advice from the Treasury Solicitors and the Attorney General's Office."
The Tories said it was giving the money to the Treasury to "put the matter beyond doubt", adding that it would be used to reduce the national debt.
According to documents lodged with the Bristol District Probate Registry, the executors were James Davis and Peter Wood of Bristol-based law firm Davis Wood Solicitors and the will drafted in 2001.
The firm insisted the solicitor responsible had "specifically checked" with Ms Edwards about the "unusual nature of her proposed bequest" when it was first made.
"It was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death," it said.
Before the U-turn, Labour had branded the situation "dodgy as hell", and urged the coalition parties to "do the decent thing".
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy wrote on Twitter: "Unless... explanation of this is much clearer & more credible this looks dodgy as hell by Tories&Libs."
Labour colleague Ian Austin posted: "This is shocking. The lady obviously didn't intend her money to go to political parties, Do the decent thing!
"Cameron & Clegg tell us sorting deficit top priority. Not when Joan Edwards left #500k for govt to use as 'think fit'."
Tory MPs had also called for it to be returned.
Conor Burns said: "Whoever decided to accept a penny of Joan Edwards's money for the party has very poor judgment."
Zac Goldsmith added: "This needs to be sorted out now. No-one can truly believe this lady wanted her money squandered on electioneering."
Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the Daily Mail: "I am surprised they were so desperate that they took the money in the first place.
"I am surprised that a political party would want to take this money in circumstances when there is any doubt of the deceased person's intention."
A Conservative Party spokesman said: "The solicitors for the deceased, acting as the executors, informed the Conservative Party that it was a beneficiary of the will."