Stuart Garner, the former boss of the embattled Norton Motorcycles, is being investigated by The Pensions Regulator regarding his conduct as a trustee of three pension schemes invested directly into his collapsed business.
The move comes after the classic motorcycle marque slumped into administration in January, wiping out around £14m held by pension funds belonging to 228 savers who had invested their retirement pots into Norton following a fraud.
A Guardian and ITV News investigation revealed in January that those savers had been persuaded by a conman to transfer their retirement funds out of conventional pension plans during 2012 and 2013. Their money was then locked up for five years in three new pension plans controlled by Garner – where the cash was invested solely in shares in Norton, which the businessman had acquired in 2008.
The regulator’s investigation comes after Garner was accused last May of “inexcusable conduct” by the Pensions Ombudsman, who was responding to a complaint made by one pension fund holder. The ombudsman went on to criticise the entrepreneur for a “clear” conflict of interest in his role as trustee of schemes that invested all their funds into his own business.
In his determination the ombudsman Anthony Arter, who reported Garner to the regulator, stated: “It appears to me that the investment of all of the scheme’s assets in Norton Motorcycle Holdings is potentially in breach of the restrictions on employer-related investments under section 40 of the Pensions Act 1995.”
The Pension Regulator declined to comment.
Garner, who did not respond to the ombudsman during its 2019 investigation, could not be contacted. JMW Solicitors, which is understood to be acting for the businessman, said: “We are unable to comment on any ongoing proceedings.”
The three pension schemes run by Garner received most of their funds from pension holders during 2012 and 2013, following a scam that saw the promoter convicted for fraud.
The pension holders – many of whom were financially vulnerable at the time – had transferred their retirement pots from providers to Garner’s funds after the promoter led them to believe they would then receive a tax-free lump sum.
In fact, the lump sums left them with substantial tax bills. Simon Colfer, who was convicted of fraud in 2018 for the way in which he had sold the scheme, was paid significant fees from the retirement pots.
As part of that series of transactions, fees were also paid by Garner’s pension schemes to a company called T12 Administration, which carried out the day-to-day administration.
Court documents from their trial show that about £4m was then paid out by Meeson and Bradley to friends, family and associates, including a £990,000 loan that Garner used to buy the Norton brand in 2008.
Further documents, which have been seen by the Guardian, also suggest that Garner knew that Meeson and Bradley were being investigated for the tax fraud more than a year before he engaged with them on the pension schemes.
Garner has said that he did not know he was dealing with fraudsters when creating the pensions schemes and that he considers himself to be a victim. He denies any wrongdoing.