Information gap for Nicholson & Bass admins

Nicholson & Bass' joint administrators appointed on 11 October
Nicholson & Bass' joint administrators appointed on 11 October

Administrators at Nicholson & Bass have been unable to provide a statement of affairs or creditors’ list for the business “due to the non-cooperation of the current and previous director”, in what is a highly unusual situation.

Tom Keenan and Scott Murray of Keenan CF were appointed as joint administrators of Belfast-based Nicholson & Bass (N&B) on 11 October. They were put in place by floating charge holder Upstream Working Capital, which provided an invoice discounting facility secured by the firm’s book debts.

A complex chain of events prior to the administration saw the trade and certain assets of N&B transferred to Bradley Group (UK), a related company, during August.

Also in August, John McGrath acquired 100% of the share capital of N&B.

The directors of Bradley Group (UK) at the time were Stephen Bradley MBE and Peter Bradley. However, Peter Bradley resigned as a director of the company on 31 October, and his job title is now ‘print specialist’.

According to the administrators’ report, although the trade debtors listing for N&B provided by Upstream Working Capital showed an outstanding book value of £269,013 as of 5 September 2019, just £939.27 has been received.

“The majority of debtors either queried the amount due or stated they have already paid the sum claimed to either Nicholson & Bass before our appointment or to Bradley Group UK,” the report stated.

“Without further detail being provided from the directors it is difficult to progress the collection of book debts.”

Keenan said he had written to McGrath and Peter Bradley asking for details of the assets and liabilities of the company, and details relating to the transfer of the trade and certain assets to Bradley Group (UK).

“Despite several attempts, we have received no information from the current and previous director,” Keenan stated.

He also cited “non-cooperation from the current and previous director” for being unable to provide a statement of affairs or creditors’ list, with solicitors consulted regarding the best way to obtain the information, which could involve legal action.

Printweek was unable to reach Peter Bradley for comment. A spokesman issued a statement on his behalf that said: “There has been a slight delay with this for legal reasons beyond their control but they are absolutely playing their part in the process and fully cooperating – so progress/next steps expected shortly.”

The last filed accounts for Nicholson & Bass, which are abbreviated, are for 2017.

Shareholders’ funds reduced from nearly £1.73m to just £857. Keenan said: “We do not know the reason for this.”

The administrators are also carrying out investigations into statutory compliance issues, misfeasance or breach of duty, and antecedent transactions – including transactions at an under value and preferences.

This involves a detailed conduct questionnaire being issued to the current director and anyone who was a director within the last three years. This report has to be submitted to the Directors’ Disqualification Unit by 11 January 2020.

Separately, former employees of N&B and Quinns Belfast (2009) are still awaiting their redundancy payments. The NI Redundancy Payments Service is carrying out its own investigations into events around the lay-offs. Employees now working for the Bradley Group (UK) have received an additional questionnaire from the service asking for details about their employment.

Stephen Bradley MBE sent these employees a letter, dated 6 December and which Printweek has seen, laying out a timeline of events that employees can share with the Redundancy Payments Service if necessary. He states that Quinns ceased trading on 16 August and the new employment contracts with Bradley Group (UK) started on 26 August.

Bradley said that both Nicholson & Bass and Quinns were believed to be insolvent at the time, and the only way forward he could see was to combine the two operations. The letter concludes: “I appreciate that we have had difficult times, but we can look forward to a brighter future.”