High Court sets seven year ban for Hinchliffe

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STEPHEN HINCHLIFFE, the Sheffield entrepreneur whose Facia retail empire collapsed two years ago, was yesterday disqualified from being a director of a company for seven years following a ruling in the High Court. Though the court can ban individuals for up to 15 years the DTI, which brought the case, said a seven-year ban was "a serious censure."

Mr Hinchliffe's business partner, Christopher Harrison, was due to have appeared in court on a similar disqualification application. However, his hearing had to be delayed because he is in jail in Germany charged with misappropriating pounds 320,000.

Mr Hinchliffe and Mr Harrison are still under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office over the collapse of the Facia retail chain, which included a string of high street names such as Sock Shop, Freeman Hardy Willis, Salisbury's, Red or Dead and Contessa.

In a statement issued through his lawyers, Mr Hinchliffe said he had "reluctantly agreed" to the disqualification order. However, he said he would be applying for leave to the court for permission to act as a director of one or more companies, and that the application would be made shortly. He added that he had intended to "vigorously defend" the disqualification application, but that the unavailability of key evidence and the prohibitive costs of a court case against the DTI had deterred him.

The disqualification was made in respect of Mr Hinchliffe's conduct as a director of Boxgrey (formerly En-Tout-Cas) which specialised in building tennis courts and providing artificial sports surfaces. Boxgrey went into voluntary liquidation in 1994 with debts of pounds 3m.

Mr Hinchliffe did not appear in court and did not dispute the application, which stated that he "acted only in the interests of the Chase companies"(which were personally controlled by him).

The allegations included:

That he transferred Boxgrey's cash resources on interest-free loans for the benefit of the Chase companies and failed to repay them when Boxgrey needed the money;

That he purchased a business called Matchmaker at a "grossly inflated price" with the aim of benefiting Chase;

That he caused Boxgrey to incur management charges that were exorbitant; and

That he failed to ensure that accounts for the year to October 1992 were audited and filed in time.

Mr Hinchliffe's lawyers said yesterday that he "will continue to all he can to rebuild his business life".

After the collapse of Boxgrey, Mr Hinchliffe formed the Facia retail group in June 1994. He embarked on a spending spree which saw him buy several distressed high street brands at knock-down prices. Within two years the company collapsed with estimated debts of pounds 30m.