Home Entertainment VERY awkward questions over the viral charity allotment ‘poisoned with salt’: Carly...

VERY awkward questions over the viral charity allotment ‘poisoned with salt’: Carly Burd raised £250,000 amid fury at ‘vandalism’. A year on, GUY ADAMS joins those asking what became of the money… and how true her story is

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One sunny day last April, the Canons Gate Allotments in Harlow played host to a bona fide media circus. ITV‘s Good Morning Britain had come to town with a green-fingered team that included roving reporter Nick Dixon, celebrity garden designer Juliet Sargeant and TV horticulturist Danny Clarke.

Joining them, in hi-vis jackets, were dozens of eager volunteers, including staff from an array of local businesses and garden centres, officials from Harlow Council, and residents of the surrounding housing estate.

At the centre of everything was Carly Burd, a 44-year-old mother-of-three who lives on disability benefits in a modest end-of-terrace home just up the road. At this exact moment, the unassuming Essex housewife was front and centre of a touching story that had captured hearts and minds across the world.

Carly, who suffers from MS and lupus — a condition that causes joint pain, skin rashes and tiredness — had over the preceding few months become a sensation on TikTok, on which she filmed herself growing vegetables that were given away to needy locals affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

Typical videos might also see Carly claiming to be ‘absolutely disgusted’ with Rishi Sunak, whose government she apparently held responsible for food inflation. They were duly being amplified by the sort of fashionable celebrities who use social media to attack wicked Tories.

Carly Burd, a 44-year-old mother-of-three, filmed TikTok videos of herself growing vegetables and giving them to needy locals affected by the cost of living crisis

Carly Burd, a 44-year-old mother-of-three, filmed TikTok videos of herself growing vegetables and giving them to needy locals affected by the cost of living crisis

Carly chronicled her A Meal On Me With Love project on TikTok and Facebook where she invited supporters to send her money via PayPal, raising further funds via collection tins at local stores

Carly chronicled her A Meal On Me With Love project on TikTok and Facebook where she invited supporters to send her money via PayPal, raising further funds via collection tins at local stores

The abandoned allotment - which now has waste timber strewn against the fence, brambles sprouting from piles of compost and plastic tarpaulins and empty flower pots turning green

The abandoned allotment – which now has waste timber strewn against the fence, brambles sprouting from piles of compost and plastic tarpaulins and empty flower pots turning green

Then disaster struck. On April 11 last year, Carly released a highly emotional TikTok post in which she tearfully claimed that vandals had crept into her beloved allotment overnight and sprinkled salt on the soil in order to poison the crops. ‘All of the nature that’s in the ground, all the worms, they’re all dead!’ she sobbed.

Bedlam ensued. The ‘absolutely heartbroken’ Carly saw her film clock up millions of views, generating more than 32,000 supportive comments, before the media came knocking. The plight of her ‘salted’ allotment made almost every national newspaper, along with evening bulletins on the BBC and ITV, in which Carly gave suitably doleful interviews. She was even the subject of a glowing profile in The New York Post.

A crowdfunding appeal, seeking donations to repair the damage, and ‘provide those on benefits, pensioners on state pension, and those on low income, FREE organic fruit and vegetables, plus essentials’ soon gathered pace.

The appeal was publicly endorsed by a host of Left-leaning ‘influencers’, including the BBC’s Gary Lineker, who chipped in £500, and Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett, who contributed £2,000. Eventually, it raised an astonishing £254,213.

Good Morning Britain’s arrival was supposed to complete this happy tale of redemption via the time-honoured tradition of a TV ‘makeover’. By the time they’d finished, Carly’s allotment was a model of horticultural order.

‘We’ve taken away the toxic soil and replaced it with nice fresh stuff, so Carly is going to be able to plant away,’ said Danny Clarke. Back in the studio, host Ben Shephard commented: ‘It’s amazing to be able to get the community together, but terrible she’s had to go through all that.’

So far, so uplifting. But fast forward 12 months and the scene at Canons Gate Allotments has taken a distinctly ugly turn.

To understand why, one need only pay a visit.

Today, the gate of the once spotless allotment is bolted shut and its vegetable beds choked with chest-high weeds.

Not a single crop grows. Waste timber lies against the fence, brambles sprout from piles of compost and plastic tarpaulins and empty flower pots are turning green.

To put things another way, the celebrity allotment had been completely abandoned.

This sad state of affairs has, I discovered, spawned a bizarre dispute between Carly and Harlow Council. Its utterly toxic fallout has been captivating internet sleuths for several months and has now sparked various extraordinary conspiracy theories.

Carly's allotment before she claimed vandals had crept in overnight and sprinkled salt on the soil in order to poison the crops

Carly’s allotment before she claimed vandals had crept in overnight and sprinkled salt on the soil in order to poison the crops

An emotional Carly in one of her TikTok videos where she claims to have fed 1,613 people through the cost of living crisis

An emotional Carly in one of her TikTok videos where she claims to have fed 1,613 people through the cost of living crisis

At its heart are two bones of contention. One involves money. Specifically: what Carly has (or hasn’t) done with the £254,213 that well-wishers and celebrities donated to her cause.

The other concerns a more fundamental question: whether the ‘salt-poisoning’ incident that initially sparked last year’s outpouring of public sympathy (and cash) ever actually took place.

For there is growing evidence that the whole thing was a hoax.

A ‘thorough’ Essex police investigation into the alleged vandalism, launched with huge fanfare when Carly was in the news pages, has been quietly abandoned, with the force telling me that ‘no suspects have been identified’.

Meanwhile, Harlow Council recently issued an extraordinary statement casting doubt on the very suggestion that plants and worms in the allotment were ever damaged by salt.

Referencing scientific tests, which appear to have been conducted days after Good Morning Britain’s visit, it said: ‘The council conducted a soil sample to test for high levels of salt. The results showed that there were no harmful levels of salt and the levels were within the range typically found in soil, posing no harm to wildlife and plants.’

We should, at this stage, stress that there is absolutely no evidence that Carly fabricated the incident of alleged vandalism. However, it’s also unclear how the council’s findings can be squared with the content of her more viral TikTok videos.

In one of them, for example, she claimed the quantity of salt poured on her allotment was so huge that it was polluting the fresh air, saying: ‘I’m still absolutely heartbroken. I went down there today to do digging and all I could taste was salt in the air, to the point where I had to keep going for a drink, because that’s all you can taste.’ Carly has yet to publicly respond to the council’s astonishing statement. But she is believed to be ‘outraged’ by the whole thing and is now consulting lawyers.

However that pans out, the whole saga now raises a host of intriguing questions.

Among them: can we trust un-corroborated news stories that originate from social media and are casually amplified by celebrities? Should the multi-million-pound crowdfunding industry be more tightly regulated? And what, exactly, has become of the quarter of a million pounds donated to the so-called Angel Of Harlow.

Dig beneath the surface of this curious affair and one might also wonder if Carly is a victim of pettifogging council officials, so obsessed with ticking boxes and enforcing health and safety protocol that they ended up damaging the very community they’re supposed to serve.

Essex police officers visit the Canons Gate Allotment site to assess the damage caused to the crops by the salt

Essex police officers visit the Canons Gate Allotment site to assess the damage caused to the crops by the salt

Carly lives on disability benefits and ripped out her own flowerbeds so she could grow potatoes and other vegetables to deliver to hungry families

Carly lives on disability benefits and ripped out her own flowerbeds so she could grow potatoes and other vegetables to deliver to hungry families

Carly claims to have 'fed over 4,000 people with food parcels so far' and is looking at bringing allotments to primary schools so children get a chance to learn how to grow

Carly claims to have ‘fed over 4,000 people with food parcels so far’ and is looking at bringing allotments to primary schools so children get a chance to learn how to grow

To understand why, we must wind the clock back to 2022, when Carly became concerned by rising food prices and came up with the idea of growing produce in her back garden then distributing it to members of the public.

‘I call it a Noah’s Ark moment,’ she once told a reporter. ‘I went to bed, woke up and thought: ‘That’s it, I’ve just got to feed everyone.’

By January, she claimed to have distributed 800 food parcels, which also contained staples obtained from stores. The whole thing was chronicled via TikTok and Facebook, where she invited supporters to send her money via PayPal, and raised further finance via collection tins at local convenience stores. She called the project A Meal On Me With Love.

It’s unclear how much cash was raised during these initial months, or where it was spent, since Carly never published any financial breakdown — not that she was under any obligation to do so.

But she soon entered negotiations to expand her horticultural activity to the disused allotment at Canons Gate.

Initially, the council was happy to help, saying it was willing to grant temporary access.

However, officials insisted that a proper tenancy agreement needed to be signed in due course. To comply with the Allotments Act, that would involve Carly setting up either a charity or a non-profit company which would run the site, with a board of directors or trustees who would oversee finances.

Around this time, Carly repeatedly used social media to refer to A Meal On Me With Love as ‘my charity’ and in February and March 2023 was telling supporters that she had appointed ‘two new board members’ to act as trustees.

In early April, she announced: ‘I’m going to sort out the last of the paperwork and send it off to become a charity.’ No such paperwork was ever filed, however, and by the time of the alleged salt-poisoning, relations with Harlow Council — whose officers were demanding to see insurance certificates and other documents — had become strained.

Then Carly’s tearful TikTok film went viral. Interestingly, in light of subsequent events, there were a handful of sceptical responses, with the odd cynic wondering how the quantity of salt visible on film (best described as a light dusting) could do significant damage, let alone make it hard for someone to breathe. But they were drowned out by well-wishers donating to the celebrity-backed fundraiser.

On April 24 last year, Carly finally filed official paperwork involving A Meal On Me With Love.

But rather than creating a charity, as had been promised, she instead made the organisation a private limited company, in which she was both the sole director and the controlling party.

At this point, Harlow Council informed her that it could not legally lease an allotment to a private company. It therefore advised her to fill in a form on the Companies House website that would turn the entity into a non-profit — known as a Community Interest Company or CIC.

That process ought to have taken a couple of days. But as summer wound on, no CIC appeared.

Meanwhile, Carly remained something of a public hero. In May, she was named Citizen Of The Year at the Harlow Civic Awards ceremony. That September, BBC Essex presented her with its Volunteer Of The Year award and the Pride Of Britain Awards shortlisted her for its Regional fundraiser Of The Year gong. ‘I can’t thank everyone enough for that, I really can’t,’ she told them.

By October, there was still no sign of the paperwork the council’s lawyers were requesting. At this point, it wrote to Carly telling her to stop using the allotment for media interviews ‘as this posed a risk to the council due to her lack of public liability insurance, which was one of the requested documents’.

Eventually, on December 15, A Meal On Me With Love was incorporated as a CIC. But by now, questions about the alleged salt-poisoning were starting to go public.

A U.S. podcast named Blocked And Reported, which covers what it calls ‘internet nonsense’, decided to research how much salt might be needed to ‘poison’ a plot of land. It cited horticultural experts saying that around 18,000lbs per acre would do the trick: enough to completely cover the surface and penetrating to a depth of around a foot.

On Carly’s TikTok films of the alleged crime, it concluded, no such quantity was visible.

In March, the council released its statement revealing that scientific tests had found no evidence of salt poisoning. At this point, Carly took to her social media pages, saying she was no longer pursuing the allotment project and would also stop distributing food parcels.

‘Doing the parcels has been an amazing journey and I have loved helping to get as many people as possible through the cost of living crisis,’ she said. Over the last three years we have fed almost 3,800 people.’ Instead, she announced, she would dedicate the organisation’s time and resources to building kitchen gardens in schools.

A few weeks later, she told social media followers: ‘Exciting news. Just finished organising Tany’s Dell school for their garden project… which starts in May. Dropped off supplies for the kiddies to get planting before the allotment space is ready.

‘I’ll be delivering even more pots and soil so they can start growing their own veggies, which they can even sell later.’

However, a few days later, a school spokesman announced: ‘Tany’s Dell School and two other schools in the Templefields Multi-Academy Trust decided last week not to proceed with this venture and have informed Carly Burd of this decision.’

So what has become of the £254,213? Some seems to be burning a hole in Carly’s pocket.

One has to assume that she wants to use the donations to do good and, a couple of weeks ago, she began posting pictures of herself handing over novelty cheques, each for £7,692, to a selection of local good causes which had caught her eye. Some are charities, others non-profits, and one is a local care agency owned by a large conglomerate.

Around £70,000 has so far been distributed in this manner.

However local news outlet Your Harlow has established that at least three other local charities turned down donations from her, variously citing ‘circumstances’ and ‘recent events’.

Locals I spoke to seem genuinely baffled. One described Carly as ‘well meaning, but a bit chaotic’ saying ‘she was overwhelmed’ by viral fame and ‘allowed things to get out of hand’.

Another wondered if the council had deliberately scuppered negotiations over the allotment because it intends to build on the site. (There is no evidence that this might be the case.)

Carly did not respond to detailed questions from the Mail this week but she did email me a statement explaining why she chose to abandon the once famous veg patch.

‘I was given a years [sic] contract with a clause to throw me off in two weeks by the council even after everything I did,’ it read. ‘I couldn’t put everyone’s money into that as it would of [sic] been such a waste. So instead I’ve handed out 70k to Harlows [sic] CICs CIOs and charities that support our community.’

She added: ‘I’ve fed over 4,000 people with food parcels so far and I’m looking at bringing allotments to primary schools so our children get a chance to learn how to grow, learn where food comes from and learn how to grow there [sic] own food for the school chemically free. 

‘I’m about to start a chemotherapy treatment for my MS so I’m having a break while I get that underway and then I’ll be cracking on to see how I can help/feed our community more.’

As to the fate of the remaining £180,000? A year after the world-famous salt-poisoning that wasn’t, it remains anyone’s guess.

Proof, perhaps, that heart-warming internet stories shared by people like Gary Lineker aren’t always as straightforward as they seem.



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