The man who promised to revive MG’s proud motor sports heritage is being chased by former employees for thousands of pounds in unpaid wages and also faces theft charges, writes Edward Chadwick.
Will Riley boasted less than two years ago how he had a raft of orders for powerful MG X Power coupés after acquiring the rights to the marque after the collapse of Longbridge.
He promised that he would soon be employing 200 workers after ploughing more than £3 million into his vision to make 200mph super cars in the Midlands.
But Mr Riley’s dream now appears to have turned sour after he was arrested on suspicion of theft and battles a bitter war with his staff who say they worked for months without receiving a penny.
They claim that the tiny MG Sports headquarters in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, has never produced a single car and have accused him of putting a David versus Goliath trademarks battle ahead of paying salaries to struggling workers.
Mr Riley is also fighting Chinese car giants Nanjing, which bought the collapsed Longbridge firm for £53 million, in the High Court for the right to use the famous red octagon.
Despite the setbacks, Mr Riley told the Birmingham Post he was focused on making cars and denied he had done anything wrong. He said he had been set back by the slump in the motor trade and let down by the same workers taking action against him.
His solicitors have now issued a counter claim for £16,000 against one former employee for work which had been “unsatisfactorily” carried out.
Among the disgruntled ex-staff is Mr Riley’s former right-hand man Tony Cox, who said he was driven to the brink of bankruptcy because of a string of “broken promises” by Mr Riley.
He will start tribunal proceedings in January to try to claim £13,500 in unpaid wages.
“I lost my caravan and nearly lost my house because he didn’t pay us,” said Mr Cox, a former Longbridge worker, who helped to develop the X Power.
“If it hadn’t been for the help of my family, the house would have been repossessed. This could have been a great car but the money was never there to develop it. We never built a full car in all the time I was there – all those used in the promotion shots were Longbridge cars which we had tinkered with.
“He is fighting this battle with Nanjing while we were working without pay.”
After a string of adjourned employment tribunals, Mr Cox and Mr Riley are finally set to come face-to-face at a showdown hearing in January.
Mechanic Jake Allton, aged 62, won £6,000 in compensation at an employment tribunal against MG Sports and Racing in June for unpaid wages.
But the matter is being sent back before a panel after his former boss said he knew nothing about it and failed to turn up and defend himself.
“I thought we were working on a genuinely exciting project but nothing ever seemed to happen. There were never any parts for us to work with.”
Mr Allton, the subject of the recent claim by Mr Riley, said he was not concerned by the threat of action.
Mr Allton said: “I saw it and I laughed.
“I’m absolutely astonished because he has never brought it up with me before.
“If it has taken him this long, I can’t take it very seriously.”
The arrest for theft relates to the sale of an MG X Power car to a Toronto businessman last year. The buyer, who does not want to be named, had been working to attract investment for Mr Riley and had accepted the silver car, with a cash adjustment, as payment.
It was sent back to Tenbury Wells from Canada in early 2009 because the interior was unfinished.
The buyer was stunned when he later saw the car for sale in an online auction catalogue.
Although it failed to attract the reserve bid in the sale, it was eventually bought but crashed shortly afterwards.
“Aside from the fact that it has had a financial impact on me, all this has been very embarrassing,” said the Canadian. “I had told people about this car and the idea was that it would come here and I could use it to attract potential investors.
‘‘I had already put nine months of work in for the company. It was sent back because it just wasn’t in a state where I wanted to show it to people. When I saw it up for auction, my heart dropped.”
The businessman said he was put off by the costs of civil proceedings to try and recover the costs of the car and was left with no alternative but to go to police in July and Mr Riley was subsequently arrested. He is due to answer bail in February.
A spokesman for West Mercia Crown Prosecution Service said their file was sent back to the police in October 14 for more information.
No decision has been made on whether he will be charged, said a police spokesman.
Mr Riley said: “I don’t think I owe Tony Cox money, but he is taking to me to tribunal next year.
“The other matter is going back to tribunal because I was never made aware of the proceeding and could not put my argument forward.
“Last year we had all sorts of problems which the car industry has felt as a whole and I have been ill on and off for the last 12 months.
“I’m still very much committed to making cars.”
Mr Riley’s solicitor, Adrian Harling, said he could not comment on his client’s arrest for theft because the matter was still ongoing.
Nanjing, which bought the collapsed firm for £53 million in 2005, is seeking an order at the High Court to stop Mr Riley from using the logo and name.
Mr Riley acquired the subsidiary MG Sports and Racing from administrators Price Waterhouse Coopers as part of a sell-off of assets.
The court was told last month that MG Sports and Racing never had formal consent to use the logo.
The hearing will continue in the new year.