Alan Barnes fundraiser loses court fight with ex-PR handler

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A woman dubbed the Angel of the North after she started a fundraiser for disabled mugging victim Alan Barnes has said she will give up charity work after losing a legal dispute with her former PR handler.

Katie Cutler was at the County Court in Newcastle to hear that a £6,200 bill plus legal costs was legal and must be paid to Claire Barber PR.

During the hearing it emerged Miss Barber last month took 4ft 6in Mr Barnes to a bank and he had written her a cheque for the amount Ms Cutler owed, but the PR handler had not cashed the cheque.

Ms Cutler, a beautician from Greenside, Gateshead, had set up an online fundraising page for Mr Barnes last year which raised £330,000 after he was attacked in the street, and used the widespread publicity to start a foundation to help other good causes.

She wept outside court as she said: "I am happy I have done some nice things and have helped some people who sadly are not with us now.

"Because of this (court case), I will not do any more charity work, I will not do anything for anyone else.

"I am so disappointed how someone can try to belittle someone."

She said she had not received money raised recently from two online donation sites which were set up to help her pay her bill.

After the hearing, Miss Barber, who runs her Northumberland-based business with one of her two daughters, said the strain had been "intolerable" and she had been the victim of trolling since details of the legal dispute emerged.

She said Mr Barnes had felt pressured to step in to help Ms Cutler by people on social media, and that was why he had written her the cheque, which she has not cashed.

She said: "Alan Barnes felt tremendously pressurised, he has also been trolled. Everyone knows Alan has a disability. He is a really lovely guy.

"I didn't know what to do because it's not Alan that owes the money so I held on to the cheque and waited to speak to the judge to see what to do.

"But it's not Alan who owes the money, it is Katie."

During the hearing it emerged that Ms Cutler sent an email to Miss Barber in March last year which said: "I formally appoint you as my official PR for both Katie Cutler and Acts of Kindness (a charity she intended to start) at a daily rate of £550."

Deputy District Judge Nathan Adams said the disputed bill came down to contract law and he turned down Ms Cutler's application to challenge a previous County Court judgment in favour of Miss Barber.

Miss Barber acted for Ms Cutler for four months and told the court she probably worked "triple" the 14-and-a-half hours that she billed her client.

The PR handler said she had waited more than a year to be paid and her small business could not afford to work for free.

She told the hearing she had worked alongside famous people like Alan Shearer, Lee Westwood and the Duchess of Northumberland and her business had built up an "impeccable reputation".

Ms Cutler said she got her mother to speak to the County Court when a letter came warning her of the legal action.

She said part of the delay in her responding to the court happened when she asked Mr Barnes if he would help her pay the bill, and he declined.

"He didn't give me an answer straight away," Ms Cutler said.

"He said 'no', then I was back to square one."

She became upset when she recalled being under "so much stress", adding: "I did bury my head in the sand a little bit."

Her story was picked up by the media after she was threatened with bailiffs when she did not settle the bill, despite a first County Court hearing which found against her.

Ms Cutler explained she sent the email to Miss Barber setting out their agreement on the instruction of the PR woman during a meeting at the Malmaison in Newcastle.

"I didn't think about it," she said. "It's probably the most stupidest thing I have ever done.

"At no point did I think I would have to pay for this."