This morning I sat in on an appeal made by Stuart Garner with regards to the £14 million pounds that he was ordered to repay by the pensions ombudsman in June last year. To date, I’ve done my best not to cover the pensions side of the Norton story, but felt that today’s hearing would be of interest to everyone that has been following developments. Please remember at this point that I am by no means a journalist with a background in pensions, or a legal expert.
The case is between Garner v Dalriada Trustees Limited.
Dalriada Trustees Limited were appointed as trustees of the various Norton related pensions schemes (the Dominator 2012 Pension Scheme, Commando 2012 Pension Scheme, and Donington MC Pension Scheme) when Stuart Garner was removed from his position as trustee, due to a conflict of interest. This conflict of interest arose due to the fact that Garner was the trustee of the various schemes and was therefore responsible for (among other things), investments made with the funds held within the trust. As trustee, Garner chose to invest one hundred percent of the funds held within the trust into Norton Motorcycles, of which he was the Director and majority shareholder.
The Pensions Regulator appointed Dalriada Trustees Limited in May of 2019.
In his summary made in June 2020, the Pensions Ombudsman (Anthony Arter) said
“I have found a number of breaches by the trustee of his duties and maladministration on both Mr Garner’s and LD’s part.” It was also stated that Stuart Garner had “acted dishonestly and in breach of his duty of no conflict, his duty not to profit, and his duty to act with prudence had breached his investment duties”, Garner had failed “to exercise due skill and care”. It was also stated that in his capacity as trustee that Garner had “amounted to a fraud on the power of investment”.
Between June 2020 and today, Stuart Garner appealed the decision made by the Pensions Ombudsman. His appeal in December was rejected. The Honourable Mr Justice Fancourt said of the December appeal “There could have been no good reason to delay the payment of compensation unless there was compelling evidence that it would be provided by other means within the timescale specified by the ombudsman”. Garner again appealed the decision today.
The outcome of the hearing this morning is that Stuart Garner has been granted permission to appeal. While this might at first sound like a win for Garner, it’s important (in my opinion) to consider the reason why the appeal has been granted. It wasn’t granted (in my opinion) based on the original order given to repay, more on a technicality regarding how the original decision was made by the Pensions Ombudsman.
I got a real sense of professional frustration in listening to the hearing today. In the words of The Honourable Mr Justice Morgan “This appeal is based on a technicality of the case, not the case itself. Being granted permission to appeal should not be construed as granted permission to prove that Garner wasn’t and continues to remain liable for the money that he owes.” He went on to state “I am forced to give permission to appeal. Respectfully, we are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.”
That tells me that the outcome appears to be inevitable and that eventually Stuart Garner will have to repay the £14m owed, but it will now take slightly longer due to the appeal made by Garner being granted.
What else matters?
It was stated during the hearing that an offer has been accepted in principle for Donington Hall, and that funds left over following various charges against the property being settled would be made available to repay money owed by Garner. The Hall and associated buildings were valued at the time (July 2020) at £8.75 million. A lot has gone on in the world since then.
I’ve had a number of conversations with various people regarding the condition and actual value of the hall. It’s considered by those in the know that the hall is in need of a nut and bolt restoration. Everything from a new roof, to the parts of the hall that were being lived in needing to be heated with gas bottles due to a lack of working services should be considered here. A source that I have no reason to doubt valued the hall itself at around one million pounds.
Last year Jonathan Palmer (Chief Executive of the MSV Group) expressed an interest in buying the Hall and that it (a deal) was simply down to negotiations. My experience of Mr Palmer in the sixteen years that I’ve been a motorcycle journalist tell me that he’s a canny businessman and a shrewd operator. At the time of writing, it was unconfirmed if Mr Palmer had been successful in those negotiations and is the new owner.
It’s also important that there are various charges on the value of Donington Hall, not least one placed by Leicester council following a loan made to Norton Motorcycles and Garner in February 2019 for £750,000. This amount would need to be deducted from the sale amount for the Hall before anyone else (in this case the Pension holders waiting for their £14m) will see any repayment made to them.
In short, today Mr Garner bought himself some time. In the meantime I’ll continue to communicate with the pension holders, including the bin man who invested his entire life savings in a Norton Pension scheme, and the lady who is trying to claw back some of the investment her father made in a pension scheme, even though her father passed away recently due to not having the necessary funds to pay for medical treatment.
Why are you still writing about Norton?
I still work on the Norton story every day. Keeping up with developments, maintaining working relationships with the people that have helped with my work, going down various rabbit holes and talking to lots of people. I still have unanswered questions and feel that I can show lots of evidence that proves without any doubt that Stuart Garner acted unlawfully. People that don’t want to go on the record have to have their wishes respected though, which is a real shame. The day we went into round one of lockdown I had my research notes commissioned as a documentary, I’m still hopeful that this will come off. In the meantime, expect a pension piece by Simon Goodley at The Guardian to be more detailed and better put than what you’ve just read.
Words: John Hogan