Auction house heir signs on: Pounds 1m in shares but hotel ventures failed

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The Independent Online
AN AUCTION HOUSE heir whose shares are worth more than pounds 1m signed on the dole again yesterday, claiming he is down to his last pounds 16.

For just over two months up until 17 December, Toby Bonham, 50, a substantial shareholder in Montpelier Properties, which owns Bonhams, the 200 year-old Knightsbridge auction house, had been claiming pounds 44 income support and around pounds 60 a week housing benefit.

However, the payments were halted, pending an investigation, after the Department of Social Security discovered that Mr Bonham owned apparently substantial assets - 190,000 shares in Montpelier Properties and eight flats in Brussels - which had not been declared to the department. Anyone with tradable assets of more than pounds 8,000 has no entitlement to benefits.

Yesterday, Mr Bonham, who is staying temporarily with his mother Diana Bonham, 72, at her four-bedroomed house in Seaview, Isle of Wight, registered as unemployed with the employment office in Ryde. He is seeking a resumption of the pounds 44 a week income support payments. Today he is meeting DSS officials to explain his financial position.

Over the past 18 years, Mr Bonham says, he has not received any dividends from his shares, and he owes his mother pounds 48,000 plus interest for the Brussels flats, which are tenantless.

Four years ago a Hampshire property developer, Wally Pinhorn, lent Mr Bonham pounds 650,000 against the security of his shares. This money was spent on clearing bank loans, making a settlement to his estranged wife and paying off other debts. With the interest, Mr Pinhorn is now owed about pounds 1m.

Mr Bonham's troubles began after he left the family firm in December 1980 and bought a lease on a hotel, New Barn House at Osborne, Isle of Wight. He ran it until 1983 when he was fined pounds 600 after marijuana plants were found growing in the grounds of the hotel and his landlords, the Crown Commissioners, evicted him.

Last May, Mr Bonham returned to Britain after more than four years in Thailand where a second hotel venture also failed. 'If I am a millionaire,' Mr Bonham said yesterday, 'I must be the poorest millionaire in England because I have not got anything.'