Details emerge over Norton collapse amid brewing pensions scandal

An investigation reveals Norton Motorcycles is embroiled in a serious pensions and fraud scandal running into the millions

Norton Motorcycles

Norton Motorcycles was this week confirmed to have slipped into administration with reports claiming the firm is embroiled in a serious pensions scandal that cheated many out of their funds.

An exclusive investigation conducted by both the Guardian and ITV reveals the reasons for the collapse are less to do with money owed to the HMRC and more down to hundreds of people that have invested millions into the company over the years, including ordinary taxpayers.

Founded in 1898, Norton’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly over the last century but the iconic nameplate endured favourably in that time. The firm was resurrected in 2008 when it was purchased by Stuart Garner, who promised to return the company to its former glories.

However, what has emerged in the wake of its collapse is a brewing fraud scandal relating to three pension funds – the Dominator 2012 Pension Scheme; the Donington MC Pension Scheme; and the Commando 2012 Pension Scheme – set up in 2012 by Garner to invest in Norton’s shares.

Many of the funds were raised in 2012 and 2013 by Simon Colfer, a convicted conman, who was given a suspended prison sentence in 2018 for presenting himself under a false name, concealing a previous conviction and not declaring bankruptcies. It is reported Colfer received ‘significant fees’ from raising the money but Garner insists he had no idea the funds were raised fraudulently and that he is also a ‘victim’ of the saga.

A total of 31 complaints to the pensions ombudsman have been received since then, notably a failure to return funds years after the lock-in period, which prevents money being withdrawn, had passed. The pensions pots total £14million.

“We have received a number of complaints concerning the trustee’s failure to action members’ requests to withdraw their monies from the scheme, and from two other pension schemes of which Mr Garner is the sole trustee; the funds of which are also invested in Norton Motorcycle Holdings Limited,” the ombudsmen stated in May 2019.

Elizabeth Pitcairn, who invested £56,000 into the pension fund, told the Guardian: “I think [Garner] has behaved atrociously. How is it in this day and age with all these checks that are in place that he can have my money – basically take my money – and not give it back and there be no penalty to him?”

Government to face questions over Norton investment?

Garner’s smokescreen doesn’t just involve ordinary people either. Over the years the government has invested a significant amount of taxpayers’ money into the company, championing it as an example of good British manufacturing. It has often featured front and centre of the government’s Made In Britain campaigns.

Norton received a £4million government grant from then chancellor George Osborne in 2015, while Brexit secretary Stuart Barclay described it as a ‘great business, great brand’ on a visit just over a year ago.

Garner has also embarked on a number of media campaigns to assure the ‘future is bright’ as recently as December 2019.

Indeed, this is an extraordinary twist in what is increasingly appearing to be a sorry tale of mismanagement, smokescreens and broken promises, with a number of people threatened to be left seriously out of pocket.

Indeed, prior to this revelation, Norton was already facing criticism for repeated failures to meet production demands with a number of customers paying deposits – and full asking prices – for motorcycles they haven’t received and with no firm indication of when they would arrive.

Norton’s revival saw it pitched as an exclusive premium brand with prices of some models reaching £45,000, while it even embarked on a high-profile return to the Isle of Man TT with riders including Josh Brookes and John McGuinness. The latter recently took to Twitter to ask the whereabouts of Garner relating to unpaid salary.

Norton also launched a crowdfunding campaign in an effort to drum up some cash in November, though this was quietly ceased only two weeks after it began

What next for Norton Motorcycles?

For now, accounting group BDO has been brought in as an administrator in an effort to protect creditors, but Garner is likely to face more serious allegations after the pensions ombudsmen called a notice of oral hearing on February 13, which will be held in public.

Garner himself says he is ‘devastated’ at Norton’s collapse, blaming tax burdens and uncertainty over Brexit as the true reasons for the failure of the company.

“I’m devastated at the events over the last 24 hours and personally have lost everything. However, my thoughts are with the Norton team and everyone involved, from customers, suppliers and shareholders at this truly difficult time.

“Without dialogue Metro Bank appointed BDO administrators yesterday. We are now working positively and proactively with BDO to ensure Norton has the best possible chance to find a buyer. It has become increasingly difficult to manufacture in the UK, with a growing tax burden and ongoing uncertainties over Brexit affecting many things like, tariffs, exports and availability of funding.”

The read the FULL investigation, head to the Guardian report HERE

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