Suspended sentence for Bestwood ex-chairman

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The Independent Online
TONY COLE, former chairman of the mini-conglomerate Bestwood, walked free from the Old Bailey yesterday after he was given two suspended sentences, writes Jason Nisse.

Cole, who pleaded guilty to dishonestly procuring loans from the companies he controlled, false accounting and perjury earlier this week, was given a suspended sentence of 18 months for dishonestly authorising loans of pounds 1.12m to himself from two subsidiaries of Bestwood and hiding the disappearance of Sfr588,000 (pounds 262,000) from a third subsidiary's pension fund.

He also received a suspended sentence of two years for lying to Bestwood's auditors and perjuring himself in an affidavit in the Crown Court. The sentences are to run concurrently and Cole was also disqualified from being a director of a UK company for 10 years.

The sentences were slightly heavier than those given to two men who worked for Cole. Peter Southgate, an accountant, received a suspended 15-month sentence after admitting one count of false accounting and William Collins, a stockbroker, was given a suspended nine-month sentence for a similar offence. Two others were arrested and charged by the SFO but were released without evidence being presented against them.

The sentencing of Cole brings to an end a four-year inquiry by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Serious Fraud Office into the affairs of Bestwood, which collapsed in April 1990. Cole was involved during late 1988 and early 1989 in a heated battle with Anthony Holmes for control of the company. He lost the fight at a critical extraordinary meeting with the casting vote going to Jim Furlong, a director.

The money that was illegally lent to Cole was used to speculate on the stock market. He said he intended to repay it but was hit by the 1987 stock market crash. In the end he used the compensation he received for loss of office, when removed as chairman of Bestwood, to repay some of the loans, although Bestwood ended up pounds 300,000 out of pocket.