Creditors turn on Unwins directors

 

TWO major creditors of Unwins have contacted the failed off-licence chain's administrators to demand an inquiry into the behaviour of directors before last month's collapse.

A woman drnking a glass of red wine

For the first time, the move formally raises the prospect that Unwins directors, led by flamboyant venture capitalist Phillip Cook, could be held personally liable for the company's failure.

Cook is chief of DM Private Equity, which bought Unwins for £32m last March. French wine firms La Compagnie Des Vins D'Autrefois and Cave De Lugny have written to administrator and KPMG partner Andy Oliver raising concerns about the final months of the company.

The two wine firms agreed payment plans last month for debts accrued by Unwins. They wrote to KPMG last week, warning that if the company had been trading when it was known it could not discharge its debts or it tried to dispose of assets, 'directors of the company might be personally liable to creditors'.

The letter, seen by Financial Mail, also asks the administrators to confirm: 'What action, if any, is being taken with regard to directors' liabilities.' The administrator must prepare a report on directors' behaviour within six months of moving in to run the company.

This report is then sent to the Department of Trade & Industry disqualification unit, but creditors, shareholders and employees have no right to see it.

Drinks suppliers are anxious that they will not be paid for stocks already sold. A source familiar with the situation said: 'The point is that suppliers are largely unsecured creditors.

'While Bank of Scotland stands to gain from sales of property, drinks firms will be at the back of the queue. It is vital that every penny that can be recovered is sought - these venture capitalists must have indemnity insurance.'

A former Unwins employee told Financial Mail that DM Private Equity had taken steps to separate the best branches from the rump of the group even before the collapse.

The worker said: 'They started creating a new line of shops branded Phillips Newman. Two were trading before the collapse and more were being prepared for refurbishment. All were in prime locations.'

The shops were treated separately from other Unwin branches.