Legal cloud over Hodgson comeback at Halkin

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The Independent Online
HOWARD HODGSON'S City comeback at the helm of Halkin Holdings is in danger of being undermined by legal action over his time as a director of Prontac, the collapsed computerised accounting company.

Gerald Smith, Prontac's liquidator and a partner of Robson Rhodes, the accountants, is seeking legal advice over whether creditors have a case against former directors under the Insolvency Act.

Robson Rhodes has been conducting a detailed investigation into what became of pounds 1.2m of franchise money.

'The members of the liquidation committee have instructed me to obtain legal advice in connection with information that has been collected,' said Mr Smith. 'That advice will be as to whether there have been breaches of the Insolvency Act.'

Any legal action would be unwelcome for Mr Hodgson, who is trying to build Halkin Holdings into a mini-conglomerate. Mr Hodgson has already bought Ronson, the cigarette accessory company, and LGW, which provides perfumes and jewellery for airline duty-free operations. The deal was financed by a three-way pounds 15m share issue. Halkin, previously called Hoskins Brewery, now has interests in traditional beer brewing, perfumes and jewellery. There is also speculation that Mr Hodgson may be about to re-enter the funeral industry, where he made his name and fortune during the 1980s.

Under the Insolvency Act, directors can be made personally liable and forced to compensate creditors of the company.

Former directors of Prontac have been pursued by more than 50 creditors - many of whom are small franchisees who lost everything - since the venture went into receivership in March 1993 with a deficit of about pounds 950,000 after only 18 months of trading. It passed into liquidation in June.

Mr Smith wrote to Prontac's main creditors on 15 March asking for contributions to a fighting fund for legal fees. To date Mr Smith's investigation into Prontac has been largely financed by the main creditors, Eurolife Assurance, a financial services company, and P&P Corporate Systems, which leased computers to Prontac. The rest of the creditors are the 80 or so franchisees who paid a total of more than pounds 1.2m for the right to market Prontac's accounts service and for support and systems. Mr Smith has been trying to find out what happened to the money. The franchisees want Mr Hodgson to make a philanthropic gesture.

Mr Hodgson was not available for comment last week, but earlier a spokesman said: 'Mr Hodgson has already made his gesture by committing pounds 500,000 in addition to his original pounds 100,000 equity investment as well as funding the receivership.'