Why these liars, cheats and fraudsters should be prosecuted for ripping off taxpayers and cheating London’s firefighters

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John Shannon , former chief executive of Assetco. now exposed as a liar and fraudster, banned for 16 years from practising as an accountant and ordered to pay £550,00 in fines and costs

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This month one of the most devastating reports into a privatisation rip off was published by the Financial Reporting Council, which regulates chartered accountants. It involves a saga much reported on this blog, the failed privatisation of London and Lincoln’s  fire engines, handed over to what are now revealed to be liars and fraudsters who ran Assetco at the time.

The three top directors, chief executive, John Shannon; chief financial officer, Frank Flynn; and group financial controller, Matt Boyle, could not even be bothered to attend a tribunal hearing to defend themselves against 27 allegations of misconduct. Shannon and Boyle are thought to be somewhere in South East Asia Flynn is in Northern Ireland

Between them they lied and hid millions of pounds ripped off from income paid by London fire brigade – the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority – through a string of Northern Ireland companies and a consultancy to Abu Dhabi and falsified invoices from the London authority to boost the income of Assetco  duping shareholders so  they could live on the hog with large salaries.

The worst culprit was John Shannon  who has been banned as practising as a chartered accountant  for 16 years – a new British record – fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £300,000 in costs. This was the same man who wined and dined the now disgraced former Tory chair of the London fire authority, Brian Coleman, while simultaneously ripping off the authority for personal gain.

His story included in a damning  FRC report  is a trail of dishonesty and improper financial gain for himself and his family, His first act  in 2008 was to take £1.5 million out of Assetco, ostensibly to invest in a Northern Ireland property company, Jaras Property Development. In fact the report found  the money was transferred almost immediately from the company to Mr Shannon’s personal bank account to pay off a loan.

To compound his action when Assetco’s accounts were prepared for 2010 he created a false invoice and lied about the use of the money to fellow directors and the auditors, Grant Thornton.

The second dishonest act involved Assetco’s take over of Graphic, a company that provided lettering for vehicles, in 2010. Mr Shannon claimed he was owed £685,000 by the company. No documentation was ever found to prove the debt but the money taken from Assetco was the exact same money owed by this son, Joel, to clear a debt with another business he was running. The report concludes this was a sham.

He then moved to fiddle the accounts of another Assetco business, Assetco Abu Dhabi, which was launched with a  £15m share issue. Included in the costs was a management fee to a firm called XYZ2 for £900,000. In fact there were no management services provided by this company, instead the money was used to pay off  interest owed.

Earlier Mr Shannon and his fellow directors Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle inflated the goodwill value of three other companies,UV Modular Limited (“UVM”), The Vehicle Application Centre Limited (“TVAC”) and Simentra Limited (“Simentra”). All three had been bought by Assetco and had huge operating losses, all became insolvent, yet between them they were valued at over £15m.

UVM which built ambulances and mobility vehicles for the NHS was ” in a parlous financial condition ” and collapsed. It got contracts from the NHS by offering cheap deals which meant it lost money.

TVAC built chassis and fire appliances was acquired in 2007 and went bust in 2008 and was an operational disaster. But it was obviously intended to service fire engines for London.

Simentra had just three staff and was supposed to provide management advice for emergency services.

The report found Mr Shannon was well aware of this yet  allowed the £15m for goodwill to be included as an asset in the company’s accounts.

Mr Shannon, Mr Flynn and Mr Boyle also inflated income from the London fire authority on purchasing equipment and  providing emergency crew training. All this led to inflated accounts which Mr Shannon claimed he had not seen but the report found that he had lied to them about his knowledge of what was agreed to be published in the accounts. There is an earlier report on my blog here.

The conclusions against Mr Shannon are stark :” While there have been no actual convictions, certain of the activities contained within the allegations could be characterised as causing or facilitating fraud. The Jaras and Graphic Allegations amount to fraud on AssetCo by Mr Shannon. The XYZ Investment was also a fraud.”

The report also says the level of dishonesty even put the fire fighters  work at risk. It is as well that Assetco  operations in London and Lincolnshre went bust before the tragic Grenfell fire or their services would have only compounded the problems.

Most of the misconduct by Flynn and Boyle was to assist in covering up rather than exposing the dishonesty of Shannon.

Raymond “Frank” Flynn (former Chief Financial Officer) for  banned from practising for 14 years and Matthew Boyle (former Financial Controller) for 12 years. Additionally, £150,000 and £100,000 respectively have been imposed and they share paying  part of the £400,000 costs bill.

The Financial Reporting Council has a memorandum of understanding with the Serious Fraud Office which could launch a criminal investigation.

The SFO told me that they were aware of the case but could neither confirm nor deny whether they would take action. In my view they should pursue these people – even if they have left the country- with the aim of securing convictions so they can spend some time in British jails.

 

 

 

 

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.