Accountants end up pounds 105m in the red

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The Independent Online
Nearly 150 chartered accountants face personal bankruptcy following a record damages award in the High Court yesterday worth pounds 105m including interest and costs.

Each of the partners in Binder Hamlyn affected by the judgment are personally liable for around a quarter of a million pounds each. Binder's said yesterday it would "vigorously appeal against the award".

ADT, an electronic security company, won the damages against Binder's - believed to be the biggest ever in the UK against an accountancy firm - after a judge criticised crucial information the firm volunteered during a takeover bid five years ago.

Jonathan Sumption QC, representing Binder's, told Mr Justice May that his client's insurance cover fell short of the total pounds 105m damages and interest by pounds 34m. Legal sources said this would mean that all the partners that had worked at Binder's since 1990, when the deal took place, were now liable for the shortfall.

ADT first brought the claim in August 1992. Sources close to the firm said that the total number of partners liable was unclear because of retirements and deaths, but was probably between 130 and 150.

Most of Binder's was bought last year by giant US rival Arthur Andersen, but legal sources said that it would not be liable.

However, the award is likely to please Michael Ashcroft, the entrepreneur who built ADT in the 1980s through a series of audacious acquisitions which alienated the City.

Mr Sumption successfully applied to the judge for a hearing to ask for a stay of settlement until an appeal is heard. Legal sources expect any appeal to take up to a year.

Binder's had signed off an audit for in October 1989 for Britannia Securities Group, target of a takeover bid, which confirmed to ADT that Binder's stood by the audit. ADT then spent pounds 105m buying Britannia. The judge found that the accountants had been negligent in their audit of the company and its subsidiaries and it was worth only pounds 40m. He awarded bidder ADT the difference between the purchase and true values.

Binder's worked for BSG - not ADT, the electronic security company seeking to buy out the shares. The judge found the firm had assumed responsibility to ADT at a business meeting in January 1990.

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