BY JASON NISSÉ
THE Department of Trade & Industry is considering taking legal action against Lloyds TSB and Grant Thornton, the accountants, over the collapse, four years ago, of Heritage, a North London-based housewares business.
Kim Howells, the Trade Minister, is expected to decide shortly whether an action under Section 47 of the Financial Services Act should be launched against the bank and the accountant for procuring a £250,000 investment in Heritage by the group's chief executive, Jeff Lampert, a matter of days before the company was put into receivership.
Section 47 deals with giving misleading statements about investments and has rarely been used since it arrived on the statute books 13 years ago.
The legal services director of the DTI originally rejected taking any action over the case, but Dr Howells sent the case back to him last month after extra evidence was presented in a Private Member's Bill presented by Rudi Vis, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green.
Grant Thornton was appointed receivers of Heritage in August 1995 after Lloyds, the company's main bankers, pulled the plug on the company. Lloyds's actions were prompted by an adversely critical report into Heritage written by Grant Thornton, which, in addition to being the reporting accountants in the case, had also been tax advisers to Heritage.
In between the report being sent to Lloyds and Heritage going into receivership, Mr Lampert invested £250,000 in the business. Losing this money has put Mr Lampert into financial difficulties and he now is threatened with the loss of his North London home. Mr Lampert claims that he was never shown the Grant Thornton report.
The Section 47 case rests on whether Lloyds and Grant Thornton kept this report from him on purpose so that he would invest the £250,000 and reduce Lloyds' exposure.
Both Lloyds and Grant Thornton deny that there was any attempt
to withhold the report from Mr Lampert.