From prison to a £1.5m home: why Hinchliffe lives in Hope

Convicted fraudster whose retail empire collapsed walks out into a mansion purchased by his wife
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The Independent Online

Stephen Hinchliffe, the former Facia boss who was found guilty of fraud after his retail group collapsed, has left jail to take up residence in a £1.5m mansion in the idyllic Derbyshire village of Hope.

Stephen Hinchliffe, the former Facia boss who was found guilty of fraud after his retail group collapsed, has left jail to take up residence in a £1.5m mansion in the idyllic Derbyshire village of Hope.

The house was purchased by his wife, Marjorie, while he was serving the sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal in July 2003. Mr Hinchliffe pleaded guilty to defrauding Facia - which owned Sock Shop, Saxone, Freeman Hardy & Willis and Red or Dead - of £1.75m.

The property, originally called Phoebe Croft but renamed Highpeak Hall by Mrs Hinchliffe, is a six-bedroom, three-reception house set in two acres of land in one of the most sought-after areas of the Peak District. It was described by Nick Riddle, of estate agents Eadon Lockwood & Riddle, who sold it, as "one of the finest houses in the whole of north Derbyshire".

Mrs Hinchliffe, who was a director of some of her husband's companies, bought the property in March last year as Mr Hinchliffe was seeing out his 18-month sentence.

He had originally received a 15-month suspended term from Judge Jeremy Roberts after his guilty plea. The Serious Fraud Office appealed against the sentence, saying it was too lenient, and the Court of Appeal concurred.

Previously, he had served two years of a four-year sentence for a related fraud at Facia.

Mr Hinchliffe had also been banned from being a director for 12 years, and in 2001 was declared bankrupt after failing to pay costs of £185,000 incurred by the Department of Trade and Industry when it investigated a previous failed business venture.

The 6ft 5in Mr Hinchliffe was one of the most colourful businessmen to emerge in the UK in the 1990s.

Having originally made money from a Sheffield engineering firm, he hit the headlines when he purchased large chunks of the British high street in a series of audacious deals. At its peak, his Facia empire owned 850 shops.

Mr Hinchliffe revelled in his success, buying a collection of more than 50 classic cars and flying to meetings in a helicopter, as well as becoming a director of Sheffield United Football Club. He also purchased homes in London, the Sheffield suburb of Dore and at Knoydart, an estate just off the west coast of Scotland.

However, when accountants were appointed to investigate his assets, he argued that he had made only £408,893 from his dealings with Facia.

The business collapsed in 1996, causing massive problems for Sears, the retail group that had sold Mr Hinchliffe many of its businesses but was still owed money on the deal. It brought in company doctor David James to sort out the mess. Mr James sold many of Sears' businesses to Philip Green, the retail tycoon.

The Serious Fraud Office was called in to investigate Facia, and it emerged that Mr Hinchliffe had paid around £100,000 in bribes to executives at the London branch of the Israeli bank United Mizrahi, which had lent £13m to Facia.

He was jailed for five years - later reduced on appeal to four - for this fraud. Three former executives of the bank were also convicted and jailed.

Mr Hinchliffe was then charged, along with his business associate Stephen Harrison, of fraud connected with invoices paid by Facia. Both he and Mr Harrison, who has been serving a sentence in Germany over an unrelated offence, pleaded guilty in exchange for suspended sentences. The SFO appealed against Mr Hinchliffe's sentence.

No one was available at Highpeak Hall to discuss the purchase by Mrs Hinchliffe or how it was financed.

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