Facia's receivers join in classic car chase

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Receivers to Facia, the collapsed retail empire assembled by Stephen Hinchliffe, are trying to trace 100 company cars that were listed among the company's assets before payments can be made to creditors.

The list includes several "classic'' cars that may previously have formed part of Mr Hinchliffe's own 70-strong collection of 1950s Ferraris, Aston Martins and Rolls-Royces. Mr Hinchliffe's Jade Mercedes, which features the number plate SH1, is among the assets being sought, as are two cars once used by the former chief operating officer Gary O'Brien. They are a top-of-the-range Mercedes with the number plate M1 GOB and a Vantage Vilante Aston Martin with the number plate VV1.

KPMG, Facia's receivers, is struggling to identify the location of the cars as well as which company they belong to. Their task is being complicated by the company's practice of transferring cars from Mr Hinchliffe's private companies to Facia and sometimes back again. The car chase has proved so complex that KPMG has hired Charterfield, a specialist collection agent, to find them.

Tony Thompson, the receiver, said the motive of this asset shuffling was unclear but said it was not unusual in privately controlled companies.

The details of the missing car fleet emerged at a subdued creditor's meeting in London yesterday called by KPMG.

At the meeting, which was attended by around 30 creditors, KPMG said Facia's total debts to unsecured creditors could be as high as pounds 70m. The figure has been increased by a claim for pounds 30m filed on Tuesday by Sears, the high street retailer, relating to shoe shops the company sold to Facia. But as Sears retains title to some of Facia's assets, such as shop stock, the final figure is likely to be far lower.

Facia's secured creditors, including United Mizrahi Bank which was owed pounds 7.7m and Bank of Scotland which was owed pounds 480,000, have been repaid.

Unsecured creditors could receive as little as a penny in the pound. Mr Thompson said he expected the surplus left after payments to secured creditors would be between pounds 700,000 and pounds 5.6m. Facia and the other subsidiaries in receivership are expected to be placed in liquidation in mid-September.

Neither Mr Hinchliffe nor his former finance director, Chris Harrison, was present at the meeting. Mr Hinchliffe is understood to be in the US on business, while Mr Harrison was said to be in Scotland. Neither provided statutory sworn statements for the seven Facia firms in receivership in time for the meeting, though by law they were due within 21 days of the collapse.

However, late on Monday afternoon Mr Harrison did fax an unsworn statement on Salisburys, the luggage chain, to accountants Grant Thornton which partner Maurice Withall said did not tally with his estimates so far.

Mr Harrison did not declare pounds 7.7m owed to United Mizrahi Bank, nor pounds 9.7m owed to Facia Footwear, the former Sears shoe shops under separate administration by Price Waterhouse.