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Museums catalogue firm collapses: V&A criticised for failing to alert suppliers to debt fears. Tim Kelsey investigates

THOUSANDS of people have lost money after the collapse of a company which ran mail-order catalogues for some of the country's top museums and charities. Dozens of small arts and craft manufacturers have also been left with large debts following the demise of Design Marketing Limited, which organised gift catalogues for the Victoria & Albert Museum among others.

The Independent has learnt that the V&A had concerns about the commercial viability of the mail order company more than a year before its demise.

More than 100 manufacturers met last night in Birmingham to initiate a campaign for the recovery of debts. They say that they agreed to participate in the catalogues only because of the endorsement given to them by the museums and charities.

Aziza Fahim, who makes candlesticks, ear-rings and wooden sculptures, lost pounds 8,000, a considerable chunk of her pounds 100,000 annual turnover. 'At the end of the day they should meet our shortfall. We only agreed to participate in the V&A catalogue because they are such a prestigious institution,' she said.

The V&A is, however, refusing to meet the demands of creditors. Michael Cass, managing director of V&A Enterprises, the commercial arm of the museum, said that the collapse of Design Marketing had been 'mortifying, but we have done our best to ensure that people will get what they are owed'.

He conceded that the collapse of the company, with its effects on confidence in the V&A gift catalogue, will cause substantial losses. He also admitted that the V&A had been worried by evidence in 1992 that DML was failing to pay suppliers. 'We took a lot of steps to check out what the financial position was and felt we had taken reasonable steps,' Mr Cass said. Despite these misgivings, the company continued to operate until it went into receivership on 2 December, 1993.

The company ran mail order catalogues for several other institutions beside the V&A - though this is believed to have been the largest. Childline and the World Wide Fund for Nature were other clients. Thousands of people who ordered products for Christmas did not receive them. Most have still not done so, and have been warned that their money is not recoverable.

Many consumers are upset because money for these goods was accepted by the company after it had gone into administration. Angela Bowyer, who spent pounds 87 on presents, accuses DML of cashing her cheque three days after the receivership. She has received no goods, or any explanation from the receivers, Touche Ross. 'I shall not be ordering anything ever again and I'd like to get my money back.' Another customer contacted the company shortly after it had gone into receivership to ask what had become of her order. She was told that the delay was the result of stock shortages.

One stain glass supplier to the V&A catalogue has lost pounds 5,000. Other suppliers claim that there were 'panic calls' from DML immediately before going into liquidation, ordering goods.

(Photograph omitted)