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


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


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.






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.

London firefighter firm recruiting Brits for UAE military support


A UAE Hawk jet -part of Assetco's training programme. Pic courtesy

The company that owns  and maintains London’s fire engines  is  recruiting British firefighter instructors to train the military in the United Arab Emirates.

They are offering tax-free salaries of £46,812 a year  for  British recruits just as Abu Dhabi has joined the Saudis to help Bahrain’s  rulers  put down dissent among pro democracy demonstrators in Bahrain in the most brutal way. Reports have included torture of nurses, removal of people from intensive care units so they can be left to die and intimidation and possible murder of hospital surgeons. See this Sunday Telegraph report

 UAE jet fighters are  also preparing to join the coalition of the willing against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. They are planning to send 12 fighters and are blaming their civil unrest on the Iranians.

AssetCo, the  troubled fire privatisation company, is hoping to get £40m out of a £120m deal with the  Gulf State’s armed forces to boost its profitability. It has been facing severe problems in Britain, including having to raise £26m from investors and through a  share placing. Revenue and Customs has issued a winding up order against AssetCo seeking at least £4m and they have to pay off a debt to the state-owned Lloyds TSB.

The deal was one of the last negotiated by former chief executive, John Shannon, before he resigned after a huge row  with the rest of directors over the share placing.

 Now they are  desperate to recruit  trained staff so they can fulfill it. The advertisement promises a company car, free medical cover and flights home to Britain. See here.

The Telegraph report on Bahrain atrocities, the AssetCo contract and job advertisement can be seen together here. 

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, has written to David Cameron, to protest about the deal.

He said: ” The clampdown in Bahrain has resulted in a significant number of protestors being killed. The clampdown, including martial law, is supported by armed forces from Saudi Arabia and from the UAE.
… I hope you will make it clear that it is not acceptable for them to take British public money, and also to assist the armed forces of the UAE … I hope you will insist that any company which takes on such work in future, does not also undertake work for military clients involved in the suppression of democracy.
May I remind you that, in 1963, fire hoses were turned on school age civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham Alabama. Ever since that deeply alarming moment, fire services have sought to maintain an independent role as a result of their humanitarian responsibilities. We now have a UK firm providing an essential aspect of our emergency service which has close commercial links to a brutal and anti-democratic military. All the talk from politicians about support for democracy in the Arab world is so much hypocrisy if they allow UK public services to operate in this manner. AssetCo and its directors clearly have no regard for the humanitarian role of our service, and are only in it for profit.   ”

It seems extraordinary to me that a  foundering British company is poised to make millions out of Middle East  misery and recruit desperate British people to do it.