A Midland charity which sued a former vicar over a £1.9 million black hole in its accounts looks set to reclaim at least some of the missing cash.
David Collyer, a former fundraising guru who was sued following Birmingham and Black Country Community Foundation’s regeneration of Nechells Baths, was declared bankrupt in January in the wake of a lengthy legal battle over missing funds.
The charity is owed £800,000 by Mr Collyer following a civil court case over Nechells Baths last year when the former treasurer of Birminghanm Cathedral was accused of embezzling more than £1 million during the project. The charity claimed there was a £1.9 million shortfall in funding – forcing it to take out a loan of more than £1 million.
Mr Collyer had denied making irregular payments to himself in return for fundraising services but eventually agreed to pay £800,000 to the charity and legal costs in the case.
The trustee in bankruptcy, who is undertaking a full investigation into Mr Collyer’s affairs, said he expects the charity will be able to recoup some of the missing funds. Stephen Hunt, an insolvency practitioner and partner at Griffins, who was appointed by the Secretary of State at the request of the charity to recover the missing funds, said: “At the moment I would say they are reasonably certain to get some money back.”
Adding that cases often take “a few years” or “decades in some extremes” Mr Hunt said a speedier resolution might be possible due to the bankruptcy proceedings running in parallel with an ongoing police investigation and following on from the High Court action. In many cases you deal with they fit a profile but there are ones that don’t easily fit a profile and are a bit more unusual,” he added. “From the information we have seen this case is certainly very unusual.”
Mr Hunt added investigations would involve cooperation with the police, as well as the use of transcripts from the High Court case.
“Each case is different but in this case there has been an extensive police investigation and civil litigation and a huge amount of documents where Mr Collyer has given his version of events,” he said. “There are an extensive series of allegations but we will be focusing on the bit that relates to us.
“While the police investigation will be focusing on missing money and what happened to that, our role is to look at Mr Collyer’s life as a whole in terms of assets and where they are located. We will be looking at interests in property, cars, bank accounts and pensions.”
Mr Hunt, who said his work was still at “an information gathering stage”, revealed in some matters a bankruptcy trustee had greater powers as people questioned cannot give a no comment interview, a bankrupt’s spouse can also be compelled to attend for interview and third parties can be forced to disclose documents containing relevant information.
As regards other creditors Mr Hunt said there were some but Midlands Regen, the company under the umbrella of Birmingham and Black Country Community Foundation, remained the main one.
“We have a few other creditors, the charity and a number of associated or semi-associated creditors,” he said. “One of the things raised was that there were many victims. From what I have seen there may be a number of charities, small ones, but no other major creditors and nothing on a grand scale.”
Mr Hunt said the role of trustee would also see the use of special “forensic computer software” to track payments made. “We will be sifting evidence and using forensic techniques as to why there is missing money,” he said. “We have to track through bank accounts and find what happened to it. There was quite a complex network of transactions.We will be aiming to use our software to get some sorts of answers as to what happened to the money.”
Mr Collyer was recently quizzed for a second time by police, having originally been detained on suspicion of fraud by abuse of position at his home in Bournville in August last year. He was subsequently released on police bail pending further inquiries and answered bail . A police spokesman said the investigation was ongoing.