Revealed: The bucolic wine buff accountant who let privatisation spivs fiddle London fire brigade

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Robert Napper: Pic credit: Twitter

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He has been fined £120,000 and barred for three years from his professional body for ” professional misconduct ” by the Financial Reporting Council in April for his part in allowing a now bust private firm to fiddle its income from London Fire Brigade.

But before this happened Robert Napper, a partner with Grant Thornton, one of the big accountancy names, had already quietly retired with his pension to live in the rural Oxfordshire countryside and become a pillar of the local community.

Grant Thornton will have to pay a £2.3m fine for their part in allowing Assetco to fiddle the books after the company took over responsibility for maintaining London’s 700 fire engines in a privatisation deal which went badly wrong.

The scheme had been pushed by the now disgraced former Tory chair of the London fire brigade, Brian Coleman, to save money and curb the power of the Fire Brigades Union. Coleman was wined and dined by the director John  Shannon and given a Christmas hamper from Harvey Nicks for his trouble.

The union all along protested about the way the company was run – but even they did not know it was fiddling and inflating the books with false invoices for claims that were never made ( see my earlier blog).

To be fair neither Robert Napper nor Grant Thornton made any money out of it – indeed the auditors ended up as creditors with unpaid bills. But they did allow enormous latitude to the directors of Assetco, John Shannon and Frank Flynn, to fiddle the books and rip off the company, the shareholders and ultimately the taxpayer.

So who is Robert Napper who got duped? He lives in East Hagbourne in South Oxfordshire near Didcot.  It is a village of 1882 people with  a mixture of  modern properties (where he lives)  and many  chocolate box cottages. It has a community shop and post office which Robert Napper is one of the directors.

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Village Cross at East Hagbourne. Pic Credit: Creative Commons Rob Stallard

He was a senior accountant with 23 years experience who as a partner – one of the top paid jobs at Grant Thornton –  and should have known better. The report by the FRC distinguishes between his role and junior staff who were inexperienced in handling Assetco’s accounts.

It also turns out that he is a serious wine buff – his Twitter account includes many pictures of fine wines- and the best food to accompany it. Among these are his Christmas 2015 selection ( see below).

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Robert Napper’s Christmas wine collection

He will have to pay the fine in instalments. I contacted him to ask him if he had anything to say about the scandal or whether he knew the whereabouts of the people who had duped them.

He said he could not comment because of legal reasons though he did say he was not appealing the findings against him.

As for John Shannon and Frank Flynn they appear to have fled the country – he thought one of them could be in Thailand. Anyone who knows where they are could  they contact me and I would be very grateful.

 

 

Fined £3.5m for professional misconduct: Grant Thornton approved dishonest accounts for London and Lincolnshire’s privatised fire engines

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Grant Thornton: A big fine for professional misconduct Pic credit: Wikipedia

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In 2011 this blog was involved with the Fire Brigades Union in investigating the handing over of London’s and Lincolnshire’s  fire engines to a private company called Assetco.

The company nearly went bust  in 2011 owing £140m. Shareholders and banks hoping to make money from privatising the emergency services lost millions and small shareholders were ruined.

The  City Hall Tories under Brian Coleman, then  the elected chair of London’s fire authority now nowhere in public life, saw the  flagship policy as a future blueprint for privatisation. Instead it was a disaster compounded by an Old Etonian baronet buying London’s fire engines for £2  from Assetco only to go bust himself leading to another company taking over.

Now six years later the grim and unsavoury truth has come out. A report from proceedings taken by the Financial Reporting Council against the auditors of the Assetco, big accountancy firm, Grant Thornton, and the accountant who audited the company Robert Napper,  has led to a £3.7m fine for  both of them for professional misconduct. Neither Grant Thornton nor Mr Napper made any financial gain out of the scandal.

The facts are staggering. Over two years Grant Thornton   were found to have committed no fewer than TWELVE  cases of professional misconduct which meant the accounts presented to the public were mainly fictitious. Robert Napper was found to have  ELEVEN cases of professional misconduct.

As the report says: “This misconduct adversely  affected or potentially adversely affected a significant number of people in the United kingdom.”

It points out shares were trading at £6 during this period and fell to £1 in 2011 when the real situation was known. The report adds: ” The share price in 2009 (£6) reflected financial statements that contained an inflated balance sheet and included some significant revenue that was fictitious.”

An accompanying report reveals the scale of the dishonesty and cover ups. They range from fictitious payments amounting to millions of pounds from City Hall to buying up a firm for a relative  with shareholders money and creating a rental firm that let property out to directors. So extensive was the deception that I intend to use further blogs to describe in detail what happened.

As the report says: ” GT and Mr Napper were deliberately misled by AssetCo’s  management but the exercise of proper scepticism would have led to dishonesty being uncovered.”

Grant Thornton  was fined £3,500,000, reduced to £2,275,000 after  they co-operated with council and given a severe reprimand;

Mr Napper was fined  £200,000, reduced to £130,000 after  he co-operated  with the inquiry

Grant Thornton also had to pay £200,000 as a contribution to the Executive Counsel’s costs.

Mr Napper, an accountant with 23 years experience, was seen to have acted so badly that they have also recommended he be barred for three years from membership of his professional organisation ( the ICAEW –Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) for breaching  their code of ethics.

Mr Napper, from South Oxfordshire has since retired.  The Executive Counsel of the FRC said: ” The misconduct of Mr Napper , in its totality, is so damaging to the wider public and market confidence in the standards of members and in the accountancy profession and the quality of corporate reporting in the United Kingdom that removal of the member’s professional status is the appropriate outcome in order to protect the public or otherwise safeguard public interest”.

Further inquiries by me show Mr Napper in his Linked In page was publicly  endorsed by seven people including  Perry Burton, head of London audit, for Grant Thornton. and Natasha Pettiford-White, an executive assistant at Grant Thornton. Mr Burton’s recommendation would carry considerable weight as he is an auditor of 20 years experience.

Gareth Rees QC, Executive Counsel to the FRC, said:
“The Respondents have admitted widespread and significant failings in their audit work, and GT specifically has accepted there were serious failings in the execution of certain aspects of the firm’s quality control procedures. This misconduct is rightly reflected in the seriousness of the sanctions, such as the exclusion of Mr Napper from membership of the ICAEW ( the accountants professional organisation) and the fines on both Respondents.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said :

“It is mystifying that central government did not spot this scandal, when the Fire Brigades Union and firefighters themselves were warning about it for years.  Leading politicians and fire service managers were responsible for allowing a gang of spivs to take over essential equipment and vehicles, the property of the people of London and Lincolnshire.  Both of the authorities for these regions need to investigate fully to ensure this never ever happens again. ”

Grant Thornton were approached and did not reply. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

In my view this shows that one of our big accountancy firms was derelict in its duty in protecting the public from people who obviously wanted to fleece shareholders and took no care in auditing the books of people in charge of vital emergency  vehicles in London  and Lincolnshire. It also shows the real dangers of privatisation and we cannot  trust big accountancy firms to act in the public as opposed to their private commercial interests. You will see the scale of the scandal in future blogs.

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Coleman Convicted: A Tory bully and now a thug

Brian Coleman: convicted of assault. No moreexpense account lunches

Brian Coleman: convicted of assault. No more expense account lunches

On the day the purple spots of UKIP started to pop up across the English shires, one former prominent Conservative councillor got even more than just a  drubbing at the polls.

Brian Coleman, former mayor of Barnet, former chair of the London Assembly and chair of the London fire brigade, pleaded guilty to assaulting a  woman cafe owner who tried to  film him breaking his own parking regulations.

Rather than acknowledge that he was breaking the law and the hypocrisy of what he was doing, Coleman resorted to violence that might be associated with a common street brawler. He hit her and grabbed her breast in his attempt to snatch her Iphone..

The representative of the party of law and order ended up with a £1400 fine and restitution for injuries to Helen Michael. For all the gory details of the hearing and the remarkable silence from his fellow Tory councillors in Barnet, read the detailed  and tremendous account by Mrs Angry,   on her very popular  Broken Barnet blog ( http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ).

Frankly after Mr Coleman’s attack on decent firefighters in London, his botched privatisation of the London  fire service through AssetCo and his rude attacks on other Barnet citizens, including a desperate single mum, justice was done.

I am sure it is only a matter of time before Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, feels moved to disown his behaviour. Or perhaps not . it is too embarrassing for  Tory words.

Exclusive:Going bust, the man who fleeced London Fire Brigade

John Shannon when he was riding high

There may be a God after all or at least an element of rough justice. John Shannon, the former chief executive of AssetCo, the company awarded a massive contract to service and replace London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines  is facing bankruptcy.

He is the man who wined and dined Brian Coleman, the former Tory chair of London fire brigade who is now facing assault charges, and gave Coleman a £350 Harvey Nicks hamper for Christmas.  He also got the notorious strike breaking contract to supply cheap labour to replace firefighters in the capital.

He brought AssetCo to the brink of bankruptcy leaving a trail of unpaid bills – one for the use of a personal executive jet  – and forcing backers of the firm to take a 78 per cut in their debts, including taxpayer-funded Lloyds TSB, now proud and reluctant owners of London’s fire engines. Small shareholders who were daft to bet on privatisation as a one way ticket to riches were ruined when they became worthless.

He lived a life of Riley claiming a salary of around £300,000 a year and paid himself dividends easily equal to that amount while the gravy train lasted. He was actually thrown off the company by his fellow directors after they discovered they were deep in debt and he tried to get a Bahrain bank, Arcapita , to take over the firm. When the dust settled they then discovered – on top of all that – he had taken out loans  of over £500,000 in AssetCo’s name on other failed businesses and overvalued property.

john shannon – now on a creditors’ petition list for debt

But it now looks as though events are catching up with him. A  journalist contact in Belfast has spotted that he is facing a creditors’ petition ( see picture) from people he owes money and they are moving to bankrupt him.

His Northern Ireland seven bedroom mansion set behind electric gates and in seven acres of grounds is up for sale  for £750,000. You can view this here ( http://www.btwcairns.com/property_specific.aspx?ID=18390) .  You can see a sideshow of  the extensive improvements he made  using money from taxpayers in London and Lincolnshire on the estate agents site.

In a way this is a great morality tale of our time. And it is not to the credit of the management of the fire authority who did nothing while AssetCo burnt. Indeed Coleman cosied up to him more than ever. And even top officials took the AssetCo shilling when they retired from LFB, hoping to make money out of the privatisation for themselves.

It will be interesting to see how James Cleverly, the new Tory chairman of  the authority, handles the rest of this contract. He appears to be ignoring the fact that it is in the hands of baronet, Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, living in a three bed semi. So far the dealings done by London Fire Brigade are no pin-up boy for privatisation  anywhere.

Sex and Violence: The different treatment of Tory councillors Holmes and Coleman

Arrested and bailed; Brian Coleman

Last night Brian Coleman, the infamous former chair of the London fire authority and advocate of  mass privatisation, was arrested by police on suspicion of common assault after an incident outside a parade of shops in North Finchley.

He has been given police bail pending further inquiries into the alleged assault on  Buzz  cafe owner, Helen Michael, who fought a strong campaign against his privatised parking scheme during Coleman’s failed attempt to be re-elected as London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden. (See http://snipelondon.com/scoop/brian-coleman-arrested-on-suspicion-of-assault )

By sheer coincidence not many miles away  at St Albans magistrates court comments have been raised following another leading Tory pleading guilty to 23 charges of  creating and viewing child pornography, including  two extreme images. ( seehttp://bit.ly/Qr2osV) He will be sentenced on October 15.

Stephen Holmes, former Mayor of Dacorum and deputy chairman of Hertfordshire  children’s services, was also a leading advocate of Tory privatisation.

Let’s make it clear I am NOT linking the two men – I don’t know even if they know each other – nor suggesting that all privatisers are violent or paedophiles.

The link is to compare what the Conservatives have done about it. Dacorum Tories in Hemel Hempstead  immediately suspended Holmes following his arrest and he stood down as a borough and county councillor BEFORE even going to trial.

Stephen Holmes; Tories acted fast when police arrested him for keeping child pornography

Dacorum Tories are also looking  to appoint an independent ombudsman to look into complaints against councillors – particularly as people are asking what checks the party does when it selects candidates who are supposed to be trustworthy individuals.

Barnet Conservatives seem to indulge Coleman no matter what he says, what he does and who he insults. Given what happened last night it seems to me the Conservatives owe it to the electorate to suspend him from any remaining posts in Barnet and if found guilty they should demand his resignation.

If not Grant Shapps, the new chairman of the Tory Party  who knows all about Coleman, should insist the party takes action.

Coleman Update: Final Humiliation – Now facing the sack by true blue Barnet

A report tweeted by the editor of the Barnet Times series is forecasting final doom for Brian Coleman tonight Thursday)- when his own Tory group removes him from his Cabinet  environment portfolio. (see http://bit.ly/Jhqe8h)

This means is less than seven days his income from the taxpayer will be slashed from over £120,000 – to just £12-14,000 a year. For the very first time his income level may justify his subsidised fixed rent two bedroom flat he rents from Finchley Methodist church charity.

He still keeps the chairmanship of an important Barnet Council committee on the budget and spending – but he will no longer get his £38,000 Cabinet salary.

Boris Johnson seems to have taken the sensible decision to keep him away from the London fire authority after his big defeat at the hands of the electorate which saw Andrew Dismore defeat him by 21,000 votes.

How  the mighty are fallen – Thank God for democracy and transparency.

Bye,Bye Brian..beaten by braveheart Barnet bloggers

Brian Coleman: Thrown out by voters in Barnet

The emphatic defeat of Brian Coleman in the London Assembly elections – a larger than life bully in true blue Barnet – was one of the defining features of the London Assembly elections.

 He was knocked out of the seat by Labour comeback kid, Andrew Dismore,  an “awkward squad” former MP for Hendon, whose campaigning skills and determination when he was a MP was  well-known in Parliament. So he shouldn’t have been surprised that Dismore would pursue every voter.

Victor Andrew Dismore: Former awkward squad MP

But there is no question in my mind  why 2012 was so different to 2008 for Brian Coleman –  apart from the political climate that favoured Labour last night but also saw Dismore perform far better than Livingstone.

Coleman had a unique skill to anger  nearly every group in the borough  – whether the small shopkeeper, the motorist,home owners (over parking),the local firefighter, the trade unions, struggling single parents, religious groups, journalists, – and when there was a chance to throw him out they could hardly wait to do so.

But he had relied on a cash strapped local press to bully his way often unreported and rarely held to account by his local Tory group, who seemed to live in ” shock and awe” of whatever he said next.

But the difference between 2012 and 2008 is that he couldn’t get away with it so easily – because of the rise of the blogosphere. Five local bloggers including a larger-than-life figure blogging as Mrs Angry;a guy with a head for figures – Mr Mustard; John Baldy and the Barnet Eye  and Barnet Bugle took him on – and wouldn’t let him get away with it. I should also add – Mr Mustard has reminded me -Mr Reasonable and Vicki Morris.

 He also faced a pretty lively campaign from the Fire Brigades Union – both in Barnet and across London – because of his passion for privatisation which got him far too closely connected to AssetCo, the near bust and badly run owner of London’s fire engines.

 In my view – though this  can’t be scientifically proven – the coverage of the blogosphere changed hearts , minds and eventually votes  in Barnet. They were read by large numbers of people (the one I did as an armchair audit on his expenses,home, and allowances, attracted well over 3000 hits)

Coleman himself was a large dinosaur when it came to the net – he needed young Tories and officials to tell him how to operate a computer – so he didn’t realise what was coming.

Coleman is one of the first councillors  to be thrown out following bad coverage on the net. The very ” armchair auditors” that David Cameron and Eric Pickles are keen to promote – came out and devoured their protegé on the London Assembly. Grant Shapps, the computer savvy local government minister, should be proud to see people held to account in this new way.

If the Tories believe in real democracy the one decision Boris Johnson should take is not to use his power to re-instate Coleman as an appointed councillor in any way to the London Assembly. The people of Barnet and Camden have spoken.