How 'rip-off' receivers cash in on carve ups
(by Ross Davies. London Evening Standard, 25 November 1999)

 THE death of Heritage plc may have been no different from hundreds of other company
   receiverships, but that, according to London MP Dr Rudi Vis, is the true scandal: Heritages
   die all the time, and from the same cause. Vis, in the Commons, Baroness Dean and
   fellow-peers Lucas of Crudwell, Montague of   Oxford and Evans of Watford - among others
   - have described in the Lords how when a   bank gets edgy about a company it will send in
   a firm of accountants to investigate. Too often,   the investigating accountants are also in the
   insolvency business.

   More often than not there are bigger fees to be   made in putting a company into receivership
   than not. Occasionally, the accountants have   been advisers to the company and may wish to
   cover their tracks.

   When the investigating accountants advise that  a company should be put into receivership, the
   bank usually appoints the firm to conduct the   receivership. After all, the firm has already
   picked over the company's books. Some   accountancy firms offer to conduct
   investigations as a loss-leader to get the   lucrative receivership.

   In the carve-up that follows, the bank and its   receivers get paid off first. Other creditors
   have to take their chances. Businesses, jobs   and homes are lost.

   Companies are being sent into receivership,   MPs and peers have heard, when in many
   cases they could have been saved.

   One such company, Dr Vis believes, was   Heritage plc, a quoted London importer of
   tableware from volume manufacturers in   Europe for resale to Asda, Woolworths and
   other stores. Heritage employed 105 people, a   dozen of them disabled, most of them in the
   HQ at Marshgate Lane, Stratford, one of the   poorest districts in London, and others at a
   small factory in Manchester.

   Heritage went public in 1988. It went down,   owing £3 million, in 1996 after its bankers,
   Lloyds TSB, sent in Grant Thornton as   investigating accountants. The bank then
   appointed Grant Thornton as receivers.

   Three years later, the Heritage affair just will   not go away. Dr Vis is shortly to have a
   meeting with Trade Minister Kim Howells   about the Department of Trade and Industry's
   inquiry into the Heritage affair. At issue is Dr   Vis' call for a prosecution under Section 47 of
   the Financial Services Act, which deals with   the withholding of information or the issue of
   misleading information re- garding investments.

   Lloyds TSB and Grant Thornton, Dr Vis has   alleged in the Commons, colluded to make the
   former chairman, managing director and major   shareholder of Heritage, Jeffrey Lampert,
   invest a further £250,000 in the company, when   the bank and the receiver, claimed Vis, knew
   what Lampert did not - that a decision on   whether or not to close Heritage was now
   'finely balanced'. Both the bank and the   accountants have disputed Dr Vis' version of

   Dr Vis, a former economics lecturer at what is   now the University of East London, is Labour
   MP for Baroness Thatcher's old seat, Finchley   and Golders Green. He and Baroness Dean in
   the Lords aired the Heritage issue, and have   succeeded in getting the DTI investigation into
   the affair.

   Trade Minister Kim Howells has since queried   the propriety of the same accountants acting as
   both judge and jury in receiverships.

   Dr Vis took up the case of Heritage Plc   because Jeffrey Lampert is his constituent, and
   - like many accountants - he now believes the   methods of the insolvency business should be
   put on the Government's 'Rip-Off Britain' list,   along with the marketing of dud private
   pensions and endowment mortgages.

   On 16 November Jeffrey and Vanessa Lampert   moved out of their home of 16 years in
   Hampstead Garden Suburb, which was sold in   order to pay off personal guarantees to the

   Jeffrey Lampert said today: 'I am staying in the   Finchley and Golders Green constituency,
   because not only do I want to vote for Rudi   Vis at the next General Election, but I want to
   go knocking upon doors urging other   constituents to vote for him as well. Nobody
   could do more for a constituent than Rudi Vis   has done for me, when nobody else wanted to

   The Bank of England, the Financial Services   Authority, and the Banking Ombudsman all
   told Jeffrey Lampert that he was someone   else's problem, the Commons were told by Dr

   Heritage's problems, he said, began in 1995   when Lampert sacked his finance director over
   tax irregularities in the company's books. This   was George Raynor, whom Dr Vis said, is a
   friend of Brian Moritz, a partner in Grant   Thornton. The accountancy firm was then
   Heritage's tax adviser.

   Heritage then fired Grant Thornton, whereupon   Lloyds asked Lampert to put £250,000 into
   Heritage, money which the bank would lend   him upon the security of the family home. A
   year later, Lloyds asked for a further £125,000.

   These were 'on demand' loans, which means   that a bank can ask for its money back
   whenever and as quickly as it likes.

   'Business people should not be encouraged to   invest in themselves when the insolvency
   industry can grab that investment with   impunity,' Dr Vis told MPs.

   Lloyds TSB, the MP said, then asked for the   Heritage overdraft (then £594,000 ) to be paid,
   giving Lampert, quite legally, two banking   hours' notice. At the end of those two hours,
   the investigating accountants, Grant Thornton,   were appointed receivers. Lampert has been
   harrying Lloyds TSB and Grant Thornton ever   since.

   Dr Vis says there is a clear conflict of interest   inherent in any accountants acting both as
   investigators and receivers. Heritage, he told   MPs, could have been saved and, indeed, was
   already on the mend. A reconstruction scheme   had been drawn up with advisers other than
   Grant Thornton, and merger talks with a   supplier were under way.

   Kim Howells says his officials have yet to   come up with enough evidence for a
   prosecution. The Institute of Chartered   Accountants, to whom Lampert complained, is
   also looking into the Heritage case, although   many ICA officials cannot see what all the fuss
   is about.The Finchley and Golders Green MP   says he is going into the meeting with Kim
   Howells with the evidence he thinks should fill   in any remaining gaps in the DTI investigation.

   On average, one quoted company a month is   going into receivership. The number of firms in
   the hands of receivers rose 13% to 273 in the   third quarter of this year, nearly half of them in
   the South-East.