Non-League mystery as assets frozen

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The Independent Online

The former chairman of Non-League Media, Graham Gutteridge, has had his assets frozen after a series of irregularities emerged at the sports media company and his other interests.

Non-League Media, a company that counts Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson as a director, announced earlier this month that its half-year results had been "materially overstated" and the debts "materially understated". Its shares, traded on the Alternative Investment Market, have been suspended until the matter is cleared up.

The finance director immediately resigned but the rest of the directors removed Mr Gutteridge. Last week the company stated that he had made a share sale in NLM without informing the company – an apparent breach of stock exchange rules.

It is understood that a sum in the region of £1m is unaccounted for at NLM, and accountants Hurst Morrison Thomson have been pawing over the company's paperwork to discover where it has gone. The assets of Mr Gutteridge, understood to be worth around £1.25m, have been frozen by the High Court in London. He has had financial troubles at another of his firms, Eye Group, which owns the ice hockey team the Newcastle Jesters. The subsidiary involved had not paid staff, and creditors have brought a compulsory winding up petition against it.

In a separate claim, brought by investment firm Bracken Partners, a shareholder of Eye Group, the assets of Mr Gutteridge have been frozen. The claim requires that Mr Gutteridge and his wife, Sariah Smalley, account for any gain they may have made from property or misappropriated assets from Eye Group.

It is understood that investigations have initially revealed that assets have moved from NLM through Mr Gutteridge's companies. "One of the allegations is that just under £300,000 was moved from NLM to Eye Group and from Eye to GMG [another of Mr Gutteridge's companies] and has gone towards the acquisition costs of a house owned by Ms Smalley," said one source close to the events. However, another source said: "It is not clear that this has happened."

Although AIM is looking into the matter no other authorities have been contacted at this stage. The law firm Peters & Peters, which is representing Bracken Partners, confirmed that Mr Gutteridge's assets had been frozen. "The action relates to alleged breaches of fiduciary duty and misappropriation," said Keith Oliver, a partner at the company. Peters & Peters is best known for its involvement in fraud cases. It has represented Kevin Maxwell and jailed businessman Stephen Hinchliffe.

"Mr Gutteridge is strongly resisting the allegations and my clients ... are continuing to vigorously pursue proceedings and to seek the earliest possible resolution of the claims," added Mr Oliver.

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