Prontac creditors set up investigation fund

CREDITORS of Prontac, the computerised management accounts service set up by Howard Hodgson, the 1980s funeral parlour entrepreneur, are assembling a fighting fund to investigate the company's collapse.

Gerald Smith, a partner at the accountants Robson Rhodes who was appointed liquidator last week, is leading the investigation into Prontac.

The firm went into administrative receivership last March with an estimated deficiency of pounds 947,000 after 18 months trading and passed into liquidation in June.

Mr Smith is trying to find out what happened to more than pounds 1.2m paid by 80 or so franchisees for the right to market Prontac's accounts service and for accompanying support and systems. The creditors hope to persuade Mr Hodgson to offer the franchisees - who paid up to pounds 18,000 plus VAT for franchises - and other creditors some compensation.

The two main creditors are Eurolife Assurance Group, a financial services company, and P&P Corporate Systems, which leased computers to Prontac. Most of the others are franchisees, some of whom bought their franchises with redundancy money.

Asked whether Mr Hodgson would make a philanthropic gesture, 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.'

During the 1980s Mr Hodgson bought his family firm of funeral directors for pounds 14,000 and built it up by acquisition into PHKI, the UK's largest quoted funeral services company with a market capitalisation of pounds 100m at one time.

He was named USM Entrepreneur of the Year in 1987 and resigned as chairman of the company in 1991, selling his shares for an estimated pounds 6.5m.

Last year he wrote a book, How to Become Dead Rich, about his career.

Many of the franchisees claim to have joined Prontac because of Mr Hodgson's reputation. But last week one of them compared the venture to backing a horse.

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