'Anger' at new owner as Four Way and sister firm in administration

Rhys Handley
Friday, August 24, 2018

Four Way Print and its subsidiary Blue Sky Design & Print have gone into administration three months after their acquisition by an industry newcomer, whose past business dealings are now under scrutiny.

Four Way will still be run day-to-day by two of its former directors
Four Way will still be run day-to-day by two of its former directors

PrintWeek reported previously that business consultant John Freeman had purchased the Cornwall-based B1 printer and its Devon subsidiary on 17 May. However, earlier this week (22 August), Tony Murphy and David Clements of Harrisons Business Recovery were appointed as administrators.

Murphy confirmed that Freeman had borrowed against the assets of loss-making Four Way in order to finance the purchase.

According to the adminstrator, after the business ran out of cash Freeman attempted to refinance  in a number of ways including to sell the premises and lease them back. However, all attempts to refinance ultimately failed, which led to a winding-up petition being filed by two creditors who had “run out of patience”, according to Murphy.

Harrisons was appointed on Wednesday and both Four Way and Blue Sky ceased trading yesterday (23 August) with the 21 remaining members of staff at Four Way and the six at Blue Sky made redundant and referred to the government redundancy payment fund for compensation.

Murphy made note of the staff’s “anger” at the events since the company was purchased in May.

It has since emerged that, according to documents seen by PrintWeek, Freeman is currently disqualified from being a company director in New Zealand under Section 385 of the Companies Act 1993.

Speaking at the time of his acquisition of Four Way, Freeman said he "did not have a background in print", but according to the New Zealand Companies Office he has at one point or another been the registered director of at least nine New Zealand companies, including a number of print firms, which have since been dissolved.

In the UK, he is currently sole director for both Four Way and Blue Sky, alongside South East Asia Consulting, a business consultancy firm that was registered domestically but traded out of an office in New Zealand. He was also the director of two since-dissolved UK engineering firms and Reading-based Dutch Dairies, which is in liquidation.

Murphy said: “This is the worst kind of job for us. We usually come in to find something we can rescue, but that is not the case here. The staff are angry, and we are aware of Freeman’s history of failure, but he is cooperating with the administration at the moment.

“I will be investigating his history as part of the procedure, but our initial work has simply been 24 hours of fire-fighting.

“We will absolutely not be selling any assets back to Freeman, but if someone wants to purchase the business, we will take a look. However, my primary job at the moment is to secure the businesses’ assets and maximise return for creditors.”

When Freeman bought Four Way and Blue Sky in May, director Stephen Shaw elected to retire, while co-directors Stephen Lewis and Jeremey Copping remained with the company after resigning as directors. Murphy said he had not spoken to any of the ex-owners so far.

The administratrators are currently collating the nature and value of the assets and debts of the collective business.

At the time of acquisition, it was understood that Four Way ran a single five-colour Komori B1 press and finishing equipment, while Blue Sky ran a five-colour B2 Heidelberg Speedmaster. Total sales for the combined operation were at the time said to be around £4m.

PrintWeek has been unable to contact Freeman at the time of writing.

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