Car maker guilty

A romantic dream of building a cheap, wooden car for third world countries came to a bitter end last week when the inventor, Anthony Howarth pleaded guilty to six charges of theft and fraudulent trading.

The former engineer, turned photographer, then entrepreneur had been due to stand trial on Monday over the 1988 collapse of Lancaster-based company Africar International in the latest prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office.

The collapse left creditors in the lurch to the tune of pounds 1.5m and stranded investors, many of whom had been attracted by a six part Channel 4 series in 1987, which featured Mr Howarth driving the concept car on a 6,200 mile trek from the Arctic to the Equator.

Mr Howarth was in the US at the time of the crash, then disappeared, only to return in October 1994 to give himself up to Lancashire police, SFO sources say.

Sentencing has been deferred to 20 June at Liverpool Crown Court and the theft and Companies Act charges carry maximum sentences of 10 and seven years respectively.

Africar's collapse marked a sad end to Mr Howarth's perhaps unrealistic eight-year quest to build a whole series of affordable, rough terrain cars after his experience of driving thousands of miles along dirt tracks in Africa.

The vehicle, looking like a cross between an armoured car and a modern Japanese 4x4, was to made from plywood soaked in epoxy resin on a chassis that owed much to Henry Ford's Model T.

A specially designed two-stroke engine aimed to cut moving parts - and vulnerability to breakdown - to a minimum.

Africar's pilot factory in Lancaster was set up in July, 1986 to build 250 sample vehicles initially and 5,000 a year in full production. Under ambitious expansion plans, 20 further plants were to be set up around the world, using 60-90 per cent local content to boost local economies.

Africar's ownership followed more modern financial planning, with control resting with a Dutch foundation, the Worldwide Appropriate Transportation Trust.

In 14 original charges, the SFO alleged Mr Howarth fraudulently obtained monies from investors and customers from Africar's start to finish, knowing that the company could not make the car and fulfil the ambitions trumpeted in its publicity.

In the about-face last week, Mr Howarth pleaded guilty on just six counts, admitting trading while he knew the company was in trouble from the start of 1988 onwards. Five counts of theft were admitted, all relating to customers who placed orders in March and April that year, that could not be fulfilled.

After plea bargaining, the SFO dropped the remaining charges.

"It always has to be balanced. What a defendant pleads guilty to and the cost of a trial. What he has pleaded guilty to is a fair reflection of the charges against him," the SFO said.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin