Customer violence halts re-opening of Courts stores

Violent disturbances have broken out at a number of Courts stores, preventing the stricken furniture group's administrators from reopening its 88 UK sites.

Furious customers, who are being denied instant access to their goods, have smashed windows and threatened staff, KPMG said yesterday.

Mick McLoughlin, the head of corporate recovery at KPMG, said all the group's UK stores would remain closed until further notice. The sites were initially shut for a 48-hour stocktake after the company's collapse into administration on Monday.

"Unfortunately, because of disturbances and aggressive incidents that have taken place over the last couple of days, perpetrated by a small minority of customers, we cannot take the risk of reopening the stores," Mr McLoughlin said. Up to 10 stores are thought to have been targeted. He estimated more than 3,000 people were owed furniture that they had already paid for, adding: "In some cases, it is the very people we are trying to help who are preventing us from opening." It is not clear when the stores will reopen.

Up to 50,000 of Courts' customers who have put down a deposit for either a sofa or some dining furniture have been affected by the group's downfall. It is not yet clear how many will be left out of pocket.

"We appreciate customers' frustration and would like to be able to open the stores to facilitate the release of stock that has been allocated to customers where balances have been paid in full or can be paid," Mr McLoughlin said, adding that the stocktake had been completed.

KPMG, which has received almost 60 expressions of interest in Courts, is already in talks with a range of potential trade and private equity buyers about selling the business. It intends to sell the company as a going concern, although Mr McLoughlin has admitted that the UK estate is likely to be broken up into a number of parcels.

Courts collapsed into administration owing its bankers £280m. The company is thought to owe trade suppliers about £30m. Its shares were suspended on Monday at 13.5p, valuing the company's equity at £8.5m down from £188m at the start of the year. Its overseas operations, which span the Caribbean and the Far East, were unaffected and are trading normally.

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