Hinchliffe faces corruption case

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN HINCHLIFFE, the flamboyant Sheffield entrepreneur whose Facia retailing group collapsed two years ago with debts of more than pounds 100m, was yesterday charged with 10 counts of corruption, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said.

The arrest is the latest in a series of blows to the former Facia chief, whose empire briefly included high-street names such as Sock Shop, Freeman Hardy and Willis, Red or Dead and Salisburys.

The SFO's charges relate to Mr Hinchliffe's involvement with Israel's United Mizrahi Bank, which helped to finance Facia's purchase of a string of shoe shops from Sears, the struggling retail group.

The charges allege that Mr Hinchliffe and his business partner Christopher Harrison, who was not indicted, paid almost pounds 1m to John Doherty, who is described in the charges as "an agent of United Mizrahi Bank". The payments, made in 1994, were allegedly "an inducement or reward for showing favour in relation to the affairs of the United Mizrahi Bank".

Mr Hinchliffe was in court in Sheffield to hear the charges. Mr Harrison was unable to appear as he was being held by the German authorities pending a trial on unrelated charges.

The charges by the SFO mark a remarkable decline in the fortunes of a businessman who had all the hallmarks of the classic Eighties-style entrepreneur. A deal-maker, he bought and sold companies at a frenetic pace and left others to sort out the problems afterwards.

Born and bred in Sheffield, the son of a civil servant he had a taste for the high life. He liked to base his companies in impressive houses. His Mercedes bore the number plate SH 1. He had ambitions in football and at one stage owned a substantial stake in Sheffield United.

Although he had enjoyed success with deals such as the takeover of the Wades department store chain in 1984, it was not until 1995-96 that he shot to national prominence, pulling off a string of deals to buy struggling high-street businesses at knock-down prices. But the companies could not cope with such expansion and the group collapsed into administration.

Mr Hinchliffe's lawyers said yesterday that he was "flabbergasted" by his arrest. He would be pleading not guilty, and "defending the action root and branch". "The case will allow him to address once and for all the whispering campaign that has been conducted against him," they added.

Mr Hinchliffe has been remanded on pounds 300,000 bail until 26 February. The other men have been remanded on lesser bail of around pounds 50,000.

Mr Doherty was charged with 11 counts of accepting inducements and one of paying an inducement to another United Mizrahi "agent". He is charged with accepting nearly pounds 900,000 in inducements.