Investors in a series of hotels and care homes – some of which were never built – have moved a step closer to finding out what happened to millions of pounds they handed over to financier Gavin Woodhouse.
Accountancy firm Duff & Phelps has been granted interim powers to go into Mr Woodhouse’s Northern Powerhouse Developments to help find the missing millions.
The appointment follows an application to the High Court earlier this month by seven investors who had put money into companies owned by Mr Woodhouse, whose businesses were described by a judge as “thoroughly dishonest”.
Before his empire came crashing down, Mr Woodhouse had promised investors huge returns for stumping up cash to fund his MBI Hawthorn Care and MBI Clifton Moor companies which were supposed to build care homes that never materialised.
He also persuaded investors to part with their cash to fund Afan Valley, which was supposed to build a £200 million adventure resort in South Wales promoted by TV adventurer Bear Grylls.
Earlier this month Duff & Phelps took over the three companies and on Tuesday it was revealed that they are now in control of the parent company behind Afan Valley – Northern Powerhouse Developments. The other two businesses were owned directly by Mr Woodhouse.
Philip Duffy, from Duff & Phelps, said: “The most recently filed accounts of the initial three companies we were appointed to show them to all be insolvent on a balance sheet basis, so naturally creditor investors have been very concerned that they were not going to get their money back.
“Our appointment by the court over a weekend illustrates the seriousness of this case. It was absolutely essential we were appointed to act as interim managers on one of the main companies, Northern Powerhouse Developments Limited, so that we could gain access to its financial history.”
Judge Barber at the High Court previously said she was “entirely satisfied” that the court needed to take “immediate action” as all three companies are or are likely to become insolvent.
There are concerns that the value of some assets included in Northern Powerhouse Development’s accounts were inflated and inter-company loans had subsequently gone missing.
She added: “This is not just insolvency; it is about what has been going on behind the curtain of limited liability. These inter-company loans (have been) written off in their millions (of pounds). This is investors’ money.”
Judge Barber said investors had paid money to Mr Woodhouse in the belief it was to be ring-fenced to deliver a specific project but that “this was untrue”.
In the last six years, Mr Woodhouse has raised more than £80 million from investors – including retirees and amateur investors – to build care homes and to acquire and refurbish hotels.
But an investigation by ITV News and the Guardian newspaper revealed that many of his projects have stalled amid claims that £15 million has gone missing from the accounts of his companies.
A full hearing is due at a later date, which is likely to decide whether to enter the businesses into a formal administration.