Store First storage pod scheme
Operated and owned by Toby Whittaker, Store First was a storage pod scheme based in Burnley and was first set up back in December 2010. In August 2009, Dylan Harvey Residential Limited entered administration. Also owned and operated by Whittaker, the annual accounts for the business to February 2009 came in with a spectacular £6.6 million loss.
Dylan Harvey Residential so called after the name of Whittaker’s eldest son, acted as the agent for a number of off-plan developments in and around the Manchester area. It is estimated that around 500 investors in flats at Clippers Quay and Zararchie Tower, plus homes at Bengal Mill, lost deposits of up to £20,000 per property with the total loss of off-plan deposits between the three developments totaling a near £6.5 million. The victims notably included footballer Ryan Giggs.
In a statement issued at the time, the Dylan Harvey Group blamed the collapse on “the effects of the global economic financial crisis and the adverse effects being experienced in the property sector.” Ironically, a dividend payment of £1.6 million to shareholders appeared in the company’s accounts for the year to February 2008.
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SIPPs, or self-invested personal pensions, are a type of government approved personal pension that allows the pension holder to choose exactly where they would like to invest their funds. Generally speaking, SIPPs are for the more knowledgeable and affluent investor. Unfortunately, between 2009 and 2012, and then from 2014 until 2017, unscrupulous companies and individuals often persuaded pension holders to move some or all of their perfectly safe and adequately performing pensions into non-standard investments – All typically involving substantial commissions and, in many cases,, unregulated advice.
Many of these investments have subsequently performed poorly or gone out of business, leaving a trail of debt and investors devoid of their pensions and in some cases, still paying costly ongoing SIPP fees or even facing HMRC demands.
Part of the Group First network of companies, Store First was all about self-storage warehouses all up and down the country. Quentin Wilson, ex-frontman of Top Gear, famously quoted in one of their promotional videos that Store First was a “remarkable investment, with 20 centres and plans for more.” In reality, the actual number was significantly less. The promised returns were, of course, highly attractive too. A tasty and “guaranteed” 8% in the first two years and then rising to 10% in the next two years and then 12% in years five and six – A staggering potential return of 85% in just six years. Investing was easy too,You could part with as little as £3,750 for a small pod and right up to £30,000 for one promising a very appetising £2,400 return in just the first two years alone
In reality, it was all a scam and unfortunately in June 2016, the UK government filed for a petition seeking the wind up of Store First. The story of how the investment was sold is just as remarkable as the promised returns. Master agents are believed to have received commission payments of up to 55% of the amount invested and their route to market was varied. The most infamous being the Capita Oak Pension Scheme and the Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme.
Transeuro Worldwide Holdings
Transeuro Worldwide Holdings Ltd was operated by Mike Talbot, a close friend of Toby Whittaker, the owner of Store First. Whittaker and Talbot were fellow directors in Harley Scott Holdings which was formerly known as the Dylan Harvey Group and the holding company of Dylan Harvey Residential. The latter collapsed in 2009 with the loss of £6.5 million of off-plan deposits. Talbot and Whittaker were also co-directors in Store First Midlands Limited.
In an elaborate scam, Store First owner Toby Whittaker paid commission of £33 million to Transeuro Worldwide Holdings Ltd in just over two years. In turn, the funds were used to fund two unregulated introducer businesses, namely Jackson Francis and Sycamore Crown. Both firms cold called the public offering pension advice offering misleading guaranteed returns. Sadly, neither had the expertise or knowledge to offer advice.
Pension holders were offered SIPPs and pension schemes run by Imperial Trustee Services Ltd and Omni Trustees Ltd who were responsible for the trustee and administration services of two occupational pension schemes, namely Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme and Capita Oak Pension Scheme. Incredibly a catalogue of lies, false promises and even forged documentation saw them transfer £39 million into SIPPs with £10 million going into Capita and £8 million into Henley. Predictably, the only investment offered was store pods via Store First Ltd.
Eventually, in May 2017, the Serious Fraud Office announced that it was investigating the Capita Oak Pension and the Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme along with the SIPPs sold through Jackson Francis and Sycamore which invested in storage pods. It is estimated that over 1000 pension holders and investors lost a combined total of £120 million.
If you have been unfortunate enough to transfer your pension, savings or even re-mortgage your main residence to invest in Store First, Beat the Banks are here to help and depending on how the advice was given and the parties involved, you may even be able to submit more than one claim. To find out more, simply complete our enquiry form or call our expert team on 01382 200474.
Scotland had its very own master agent when it came to the sale investments in storage pods through Store First, namely MAP Global Property Investments (MAP gpi) based in Troon. They had a number of agents introducing investors to them. Their website, which has only recently been removed following the voluntary strike off of the company in October 2018, described the Store First Investment as “a new self-storage concept with guaranteed income from a high yielding hassle-free investment.”
They proudly boasted as being an “accredited master agents for Group First and Park First which meant they also offered for sale a “unique commercial property investment opportunity in Park First Airport Parking.” Furthermore, their website gave you even more comfort in this unregulated investment. Park First, to date, has sold in excess of 10,000 parking spaces in close to two of the UK’s busiest airports, Glasgow and Gatwick. Of course, pricing “varied on location,” but if you were prepared to part with £20,000 – £30,000 you could buy a car parking space on a 175-year lease. Further comfort was given – “even in the unlikely event that Park First encounters financial difficulties, your 175-year lease will not be affected, but you would need to employ a new management company to manage your investment. There are many car park management companies in the UK that would be likely to want to take over the management of these highly desirable sites.”
It is worth reflecting that the group balance sheet for Group First Global Limited as at June 2017 reported a deficit of over £30 million and the Group Profit & Loss account a truly staggering loss of over £42 million.
MAP gpi also offered unregulated investments in Aparthotels and Florida property and previously, the infamous Harlequin Hotels and Resorts.
Harlequin was one of the very first unregulated pension investments and, without doubt, one of the most notorious. Research has shown that it was widely sold through a combination of mortgage brokers and financial advisers desperate for income during the lean years following the financial crash of 2008. Unregulated agents were also very heavily involved.
The first of the Harlequin group of companies was formed back in 2004 by David Ames, a former photocopier salesman, who is currently charged by the Serious Fraud Office over three counts of fraud. As many as 6,000 people were induced to part with their pensions and savings to invest in supposed off-plan luxury resorts in the Caribbean; the most famous of which was Buccament Bay in St Vincent. Harlequin, with the promise of incredible returns and hotel rooms that investors could actually use too, pulled in close to £400 million pounds. In 2017, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) decided to treat these as UCIS (Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes) meaning that they finally qualified for investor protection.
Sales commissions were typically 15% and all paid at the front end and based on the anticipated total investment. An initial down payment of £50,000 on a planned investment of £200,000 earning a whopping £35,000 in pure commission.
Embarrassingly, many celebrities found themselves promoting and endorsing Harlequin including the likes of footballer Andy Townsend, TV property expert Phil Spencer and even Liverpool F.C. Currently more than £100 million has been paid in Harlequin compensation by the FSCS.
In March 2017, following a four year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Essex police, Ames was charged with three counts of fraud. His trial is expected to start in February 2019.
If you have been unfortunate enough to transfer your pension, savings or even re-mortgage your main residence to invest in Store First, Park First, Harlequin, Aparthotels or Florida Property and lost money, Beat the Banks are here to help and depending on how the advice was given and the parties involved, you may even be able to submit more than one claim. To find out more, simply complete our enquiry form or call our expert team on 01382 200474.