Joshua’s Wish founder Sarah Cornelius-Price has broken her silence on the charity’s collapse – saying it was still planning on sending youngsters to Australia as recently as last week.
The founder of the charity, formerly The Joshua Foundation, told WalesOnline trustees decided to call in an insolvency practitioner when donations dried up and they “couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”
She said she blamed a report earlier this year by the BBC highlighting a tax bill of between £300,000 and £400,000 which she said had led some people to believe Joshua’s Wish was already closed.
Mrs Cornelius-Price told WalesOnline: “It has been devastating. Obviously for two reasons – the charity is named after my son and we have worked very hard for 15 years to provide the services we do.
“For me, the really upsetting thing is the children with terminal cancer won’t get the services we provided.”
On Wednesday, it was revealed the charity she set up in September 1998 and named after Mrs Cornelius-Price’s son Joshua who died from cancer in December 1998, had begun instructing Bristol-based insolvency firm Burton Sweet.
The closure has left dozens of youngsters who had raised up to £4,000 to go to Australia as part of its ‘Oz Experience’ facing now not being able to travel.
Mrs Cornelius-Price said she was “not happy” about the situation but revealed holiday bookings for children ill with cancer at caravan parks in Tenby and North Wales up until September will be honoured.
“Obviously, I’m aware youngsters going to Australia are upset and I’m not happy about that but, for me, the central issue is we work with children from birth to 25 and we, for certain age groups, were the only charity in the UK able to provide our services,” she said.
“We worked with a lot of children who were turned down by other charities.
“For me, that’s the most devastating part of it.
“One of things we have done in conjunction with Burton Sweet we have caravan in Kiln Park and had use of a caravan in North Wales. We had families booked all the way through to September.
“We have made sure those holidays have been honoured.”
Mrs Cornelius-Price said things began to go downhill for Joshua’s wish in January when the BBC revealed it had a long-standing debt of between £300,000 and £400,000 to HMRC for mistakenly claimed gift aid.
She said: “Our situation has been that, obviously, the charity was still riding high until sort of mid-January.
“We still had some support. What we dried up with was general support. People weren’t adopting us.
“We heard people say after the story in January they thought we were already closed.
“It has come as a big surprise to us as anybody. Everything dried up. No-one was fundraising for us and doing the things they were normally doing at this time of year.
“We personally feel the BBC report is totally to blame for this situation.
“We had a debt and it was being managed. For anyone with an ounce of common sense – we had a debt since 2004 and had managed to send 1,000 youngsters to Australia – it should have been clear we had an amicable relationship with HMRC and everything was fine.”
She added that meetings held after the BBC story at The Cardiff City Stadium and Vale Resort, Hensol, reassuring parents about the trips abroad were done in “good faith”.
But she said that if the charity was no longer able to operate, trips had to be forgone.
She said: “Work had been continuing with the trip until last week. Absolutely the meetings were done in good faith. We had no inkling at that point.
“It’s one of those things as a charity, if you rely on donations and they don’t come in, things can end abruptly.
“I have a responsibility. We couldn’t continue to trade if the charity couldn’t operate. I think it would have been irresponsible to send youngsters under the banner of the charity if we weren’t able to run as a charity.
“The reality is, if you can’t pay for things that make the charity operate, you can’t pay to send youngsters to the other side of the world.
“We tried everything possible to salvage the situation but weren’t able to.
“Once we got to the point we could see clearly we weren’t getting donations in and the support wasn’t there and, looking forward, we couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, the trustees were required to take action.”
A BBC Wales spokeswoman said: “This was an important piece of journalism. It was fair and balanced and in the public interest. We stand by the story.”