Hinchliffe faces DTI court battle

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The Independent Online
Stephen Hinchliffe, owner of some of Britain's best-known high street store names, is to face court proceedings that could bar him from acting as a company director for up to 15 years.

The DTI announced yesterday that it is to start the action against Mr Hinchliffe, head of the Facia group which controls Sock Shop, Salisbury's, Oakland menswear and a string of shoe shops such as Saxone and Freeman Hardy Willis.

Facia's finance director, Christopher Harrison, is also included in the action.

The hearing relates to the collapse of a company two years ago and will start on 1 August in Newcastle Registry. If a disqualification order is granted, Mr Hinchliffe could be barred from acting as a director or holding a senior management position within any company for a minimum of two years and a maximum of 15 years.

Any ban would have serious implications for his rapidly assembled retail empire which now includes 1,000 shops and employs 8,500 staff. It is likely to affect relations with landlords and suppliers and damage the group's ability to raise funds or secure bank banking.

Mr Hinchliffe went on the offensive yesterday saying he would "vigorously defend" any proceedings brought by the DTI and threatened to take legal action against any "inaccurate" or "unbalanced" newspaper articles that might affect the affairs of the group.

He also expressed disappointment that the DTI had only notified him of the possible proceedings last month. Had he been approached earlier he said would have had been able to satisfy the DTI that there were no grounds for the proceedings.

The conclusion of his statement reads: "I shall vigorously defend any proceedings which are commenced by the DTI. I am confident that the proceedings will be dismissed and that my name will be cleared."

The DTI action is under Section 6 of the Company Director's Disqualification Act 1986. It relates to Boxgrey, a company which collapsed into liquidation exactly two years ago. Boxgrey was the re-named company which used to own En Tout Cas, a manufacturer of all-weather tennis courts.

Mr Hinchliffe acquired En Tout Cas in 1992 from a quoted company Crest Nicholson. En Tout Cas was a long established company with a history dating back to the 1920s. It had held a Royal Warrant and has built sports surfaces for Arsenal and Liverpool football clubs. On May 19 1994 the company - then renamed Boxgrey - was wound up owing creditors more than pounds 3m.

Mr Hinchliffe and Mr Harrison had both resigned from the company one month earlier and were not responsible for placing it in liquidation."

While the disqualification hearing continues, Mr Hinchliffe will be able to remain a director of Facia.