Facia receivers find buyer for luggage chain

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The Independent Online
Receivers to Facia, the collapsed retail group run by Sheffield businessman Stephen Hinchliffe, this weekend sold Salisbury's luggage chain to Carlton International, a private London-based firm.

They also hope finally to sell Sock Shop and the Red or Dead fashion chain early this week as talks continue with two high-street names.

Accountant Grant Thornton said the sale of 52 of Salisbury's stores would save 300 jobs. With co-receivers KPMG, it is also understood to be reviewing extensive inter-company accounts with other parts of Mr Hinchliffe's complex empire, payments to family members on the payroll and the uncertainty over ownership of the firms.

Facia crashed two weeks ago owing pounds 30m to creditors and KPMG has already been in contact with Sheffield police over the collapse. It will also file a preliminary report with the Department of Trade and Industry in the next week.

The DTI is already seeking to disqualify Mr Hinchliffe and his long-time associate, Christopher Harrison, as directors over the collapse of another firm, Boxgrey, in 1993. It has, however, now shelved an inquiry into footwear retailer Shoesave, another former Hinchliffe firm.

"We have investigated the case, but we are proceeding with Boxgrey, where the evidence is stronger," one DTI source said.

Mr Hinchliffe has denied responsibility for the liquidations, which took place between his ejection from Sheffield engineer James Wilkes in 1992 and building Facia in a flurry of deals that started with luggage chain Salisbury's in August, 1994.

Shoesave, by then called Echolake Properties, was wound up by the Official Receiver in January, 1994, with debts of pounds 1.4m, the first of a trail of collapses. Mr Hinchliffe and Mr Harrison, who were appointed directors in October 1992, resigned in September, 1993.

Like Boxgrey and Facia, Shoesave was already unprofitable before they took over, losing pounds 999,000 on sales of pounds 32.3m in 1991. No further accounts were filed by the new owners, making it impossible to judge the firm's trading or solvency.

Bank transfers authorised by Mr Hinchliffe and passed to the Independent on Sunday show substantial inter-company transfers of the type the receivers are eager to investigate at Facia.

From February to March, 1993 alone, pounds 320,000 went from Shoesave to Chase Montagu, Mr Hinchliffe's private company. Sums of pounds 200,000 also went from the shoe shops to En-Tout-Cas, as Boxgrey was then called.

Mr Hinchliffe moved into loss-making En-Tout-Cas in June, 1992 and again no accounts were filed before it went bust, owing pounds 3m, in May, 1994, according to a statutory statement signed by Mr Harrison.

Yet another Hinchliffe firm fell before he started Facia: sports kit maker Bukta in June, 1994 with debts of pounds 1.1m.

Four top accountancy firms are now piecing together Facia's affairs. "Ownership, company loans and curious people on the payroll are and will be areas of investigation," one source said. "But we haven't yet had the time to track what of Mr Hinchliffe's helicopter fuel was charged to which company in which month."