Howell resigns from Queens Moat: Ex-minister and co-director quit after criticism that they did not spot crisis signs

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The Independent Online
DAVID HOWELL, the former Tory minister, and John Gale resigned as non-executive directors of Queens Moat Houses yesterday after a week of criticism of their role in the company's downfall.

Last weekend Mr Howell indicated his intention to stay on, but opponents attacked the failure of non-executives to spot QMH's unfolding financial crisis and said his position was untenable.

After the resignation of QMH's founding chairman, John Bairstow, and other directors earlier this year, Mr Howell and Mr Gale were asked to remain as non-executives to smooth the transition to a new board and help organise the refinancing of the company's pounds 1.2bn debts.

QMH said yesterday that the two men had played a significant role in stabilising the group, but a company spokesman refused to say whether they had been asked to resign. He said: 'We are saying that now the company's new course is under way their job is done.'

Mr Howell, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said in a written statement: 'I have sought to perform my non-executive duties conscientiously throughout my appointment and particularly during an extremely difficult period . . . In certain significant matters I believe non-executives were clearly misled.'

He was unaware of any possible illegal actions and believed details of QMH's financial health might have been withheld from non-executives.

The new board, led by Andrew Coppel, chief executive, has told the Department of Trade and Industry and the Stock Exchange about alleged financial irregularities and 'unlawful' dividend payments made over three years. There is also confusion over a pounds 1bn difference between two property valuations.

One institutional investor described Mr Howell's statement as 'extraordinarily limp-wristed. Howell has touted himself around the City as a man with financial experience.'

The MP sits on the board at Trafalgar House, whose accounts were under review last year by the Financial Reporting Review Panel and had to be restated. He is also a consultant to Swiss Bank Corporation.

Mr Bairstow came to the defence of Mr Howell and Mr Gale, a former National Westminster banker, calling them excellent non-executives.

But he said the resignations 'will give rise to further conflicting statements and conjecture. To help clarify matters the summary of the Grant Thornton report produced in May should be issued to the press and be available to shareholders'.

This concerns an initial investigation by the accountancy firm into QMH's finances. It has been said that the report looked at alleged changes to the pension scheme which were not notified to shareholders.