Sharon & Maisie show me their lovely new home - just one of the families helped onto the housing ladder by #HelpToBuy
1. On 2nd January Sharon O’Donnell welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron to her Southampton home.
Cameron was there to promote to the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which helps underwrite mortgages on houses worth up to £600,000.
Sharon had taken advantage of this scheme and spent a morning talking to TV cameras and reporters about how it had helped her.
3. Two days later an anonymous blog was posted online, apparently exposing the visit as a PR scam.
The takedown went through Sharon’s background step-by-step.
4. It was damning stuff and swiftly went viral on Twitter.
5. Even some MPs posted it and retweeted it.
7. Unfortunately, almost none of it is true.
But back in November Sharon was quoted in an official government press release about her profession.
Back then she said that “…being an estate agent, I appreciated the importance of getting on the housing ladder”. She also referenced her job during interviews on the 2nd January.
10. Then she is attacked for using government assistance to buy a house.
The blog suggests that being “sales director” would put her on the “kind of salary & potentially lucrative directorship where she would be unlikely to need government assistance to buy her first home”.
But, rightly or wrongly, the scheme helps anyone - rich or poor - who wants to buy a house worth up to £600,000 in the UK.
Critics and opposition politicians warn that the Help to Buy scheme may be inflating an already giddy UK housing market and does little to deal with the underlying issue of a lack of supply of new UK housing.
But there’s no restriction on participation in the Help to Buy scheme based on background or income. Sharon was taking advantage of the policy, whatever its flaws.
11. The anonymous poster rams home the suggestion that she is wealthy by finding a picture of Sharon’s new car on Twitter.
In a now-private tweet, Sharon said her car came with her job and she did not pay for it herself.
12. And the house was bought through her own estate agency.
Estate agents are never a popular bunch and it is unusual to highlight one of them as a beneficiary of the scheme – especially when many other people who have jobs outside the property business were available.
But estate agents are still allowed to buy houses, including those advertised by their own agency. Any offer for the house would have to have been accepted by the previous owner.
13. Then the anonymous poster claims Sharon does not even own the house that she showed Cameron around.
This is based on public land registry records, which record every house sale in the UK and the price paid.
Sharon says her house purchase has not appeared online because it only completed on the 18th December. The Christmas break may have contributed to the delay in updating the database.
14. Then Sharon is accused of pretending to be a single mother.
This is based on the fact that she appears in all the photos on her own, with her daughter.
But the poster alleges this is a duplicitous piece of PR - because she is actually married to another estate agent called Ben and has access to two salaries.
Unfortunately, the original poster inadvertantly has stumbled onto the fact that – even though this was never mentioned in the original piece – Sharon actually is separated from her husband and living on her own with her daughter.
15. (He has since expressed his anger at this post.)
16. The anonymous forum post calls for greater media scrutiny of Sharon’s case.
17. Which happened, as journalists responded to the Twitter anger by turning up at her house.
Understandably newsdesks would want to check out what appeared to be a major scoop.
18. And now she finds herself in the public eye again.
19. But with thousands of RTs for the original unsourced piece, Sharon has now had to turn off her social media accounts due to the abuse she has received.
22. So if you meet ever David Cameron, be careful how you could be represented.
BuzzFeed attempted to contact Sharon and Ben for comment but we have not received a response.