Brexit campaigner Sir Ian Botham promotes product made by multinational company that’s in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC

  1. Ex-cricketer Sir Ian Botham was a high-profile supporter of Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign. In April 2016, he wrote an article for The Sunday Times proclaiming his patriotism as he called for the UK to get out of the EU. The fact of his intervention was the front-page splash on the newspaper. Yet at the same time he was promoting a product made by a multinational company that was in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The former England cricket captain continues to endorse the product after the EU referendum, while latest accounts filed at Companies House show that the company still has a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC. In a recent article for the Daily Mirror, Sir Ian called on the government to trigger Article 50 immediately, starting the formal two-year process for Brexit. Nevertheless some might argue that it’s patriotic for citizens and businesses to pay their taxes.
  2. On 17 April 2016, Sir Ian’s rallying cry in the EU referendum campaign was the main story on the front page of The Sunday Times (“Botham swings bat for Brexit”). Inside he wrote an article entitled “As a patriot I’m going in to bat for my beliefs.” At the start of June 2016, meanwhile, I noticed national press ads featuring the “England cricket legend and charity walker.” The prominent Leave campaigner was promoting a medical device, the REVITIVE Circulation Booster. He also appears on the REVITIVE homepage (screen shot in Figure 1) and elsewhere on the website. REVITIVE is produced by Actegy Ltd (registered company number: 04819502), a family-owned company, started in 2003. Actegy operates across the world, but its UK office in Bracknell, Berkshire is the global headquarters. Sir Ian has been a REVITIVE “ambassador” in the UK since September 2013, according to the news page on the Actegy website (screen shot in Figure 2). The news page has since disappeared in the recent redesign of the company website.
    Figure 1. Sir Ian Botham on REVITIVE homepage at 9 June 2016

    Figure 1. Sir Ian Botham on REVITIVE homepage at 9 June 2016

    Figure 2. News page on Actegy website at 22 October 2016

    Figure 2. News page on Actegy website at 22 October 2016

  3. As I said, I noticed the national press ads a few weeks before the EU referendum. And I was straightaway concerned about Actegy when I checked its filings at Companies House. At early June 2016 its accounts were overdue: the then next accounts made up to 30 June 2015 were due by 31 March 2016. What’s worse, on 7 June 2016, the company received a “first Gazette notice” for compulsory strike-off: itd be struck off after two months if the registrar saw no reason to do otherwise. This wasn’t the first time Actegy was in this situation either: it had received such notices on 1 July 2014 and 24 July 2012, filings show.
  4. So at early June 2016 the accounts were overdue and compulsory strike-off was threatened – again. Not signs of a well-run company. But the then latest accounts, made up to 30 June 2014, revealed another reason for concern: Actegy was in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC. HMRC had issued a determination of unpaid tax of £1.84m, which the company was appealing against. Twice before the EU referendum, which took place on 23 June 2016, I asked via the contact us form on the REVITIVE website whether Actegy still had a tax dispute with HMRC. I didn’t receive a reply.
  5. On 28 July 2016, the company finally filed its overdue accounts made up to 30 June 2015. These show that Actegy continued to have a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC, which was why the accounts are “qualified.” Qualified accounts are accounts questioned by an independent assessor. HM Revenue & Customs have issued regulation 80 tax determinations in the sum of £6 928 893 and NI [National Insurance] determinations for £2 279 100, in respect of payments by the company to a remuneration trust scheme. The company have appealed against these determinations which total £9 207 993,” stated the independent auditors in their report.
  6. Further, on 27 September 2016, Actegy received yet another “first Gazette notice” for compulsory strike-off. On 22 October 2016, I asked director Joshua Penny in an email whether the company‘s situation with HMRC had changed since the latest accounts. (I‘d found his email address in the WHOIS information for the domain revitive.com. There are no email addresses on the Actegy website.) At date of publication I haven’t received a response.
  7. Sir Ian continues to promote REVITIVE in national press ads following the EU referendum – and is still campaigning on Brexit, too. On 17 November 2016, for example, he wrote an article for the Daily Mirror (“The world awaits.. We voted to leave, let’s get on with it NOW”) calling on the government to trigger Article 50 immediately, starting the formal two-year process for Brexit. I was so proud of my country when we voted to Leave on June 23 and took back control of our laws, trade and borders,” declared the former England cricket captain. Tax evasion is illegal, while tax avoidance isn’t. There’s no suggestion that Actegy has done anything illegal. But HMRC considers that there are millions of pounds of unpaid tax and National Insurance, according to the two most recent years’ accounts. Should a patriot promote a product made by a multinational company with tax and National Insurance arrangements that HMRC deems unacceptable in this way?
  8. I couldn’t reach Sir Ian for comment before publication. And I tried. Online I can only seem to find agents representing him for paid speaking engagements or appearances. So for advice as to who I might email, I first asked Douglas Osborne, a trustee of Sir Ian’s charity, Beefy’s Charity Foundation (registered charity number: 1151516). Mr Osborne was the trustee I‘d corresponded with earlier in the year for my investigation of Sir Ian’s charity (see my 13 September 2016 and 21 October 2016 posts). He declined to help, saying in an email: “I am simply an independent trustee of the charity that bears his name and I do not involve myself in matters like this.” Next I tried fellow founding trustee Naynesh Desai, whose law firm is the public contact for the ex-cricketer‘s charity. Mr Desai is a solicitor and has represented Sir Ian in that role. Mr Desai and the former sportsman, too, were both founding directors, with Adam Wheatley, of high-profile company Mission Sports Management Ltd (registered company number: 04321332). Yet again Mr Desai declined to help, saying in an email: “I am not in a position to assist you.” Finally, I tried Mr Wheatley, but at date of publication haven’t received a response to the same question: Who do I email to request a comment from Sir Ian, please?

The Invicta Foundation: what is the trading address of official professional fundraiser EMS?

  1. The Walter Mitty Hunters Club HQ, a Facebook group, has this week exposed the Colchester-based charity The Invicta Foundation (registered charity number: 1143326) as yet another military charity working with a rip-off professional fundraiser: https://www.facebook.com/The-Walter-Mitty-Hunters-Club-HQ-315222931946839. These rip-off professional fundraisers not only have excessive fundraising costs, but usually work in highly misleading ways. They often create the impression that donors are dealing directly with the charity, wearing charity-branded uniforms. The public isn’t always aware that the collectors in shopping centres and other private sites are actually working for a third-party company – a company that retains for itself 80% of the funds it raises in the name of the charity. This blog has exclusively exposed many of these dubious military charity/professional fundraiser combos. It has exclusively revealed, too, the fact that so many organisations with this business model are from in or around Blackpool.
  2. Here I show that co-founder and public contact Stephen Robertson hasn’t suddenly become unwilling to answer legitimate questions about his charity and its official professional fundraiser. In April 2016, he was obstructive and evasive, refusing to tell me the trading address of the company it works with. What’s worse, he still wouldn’t disclose the information after I’d proven the link between the company and another Blackpool-based professional fundraiser – yes, Blackpool again – that has faced scrutiny for its business practices.
  3. The Invicta Foundation works with Events Management Solutions (EMS) Ltd (registered company number: 09807577), which was incorporated on 3 October 2015. The EMS website lists the company’s registered office address, which is in Birmingham. The trading address, though, isn’t shown. In April 2016, meanwhile, EMS was recruiting a “charity fundraiser” on the Indeed jobs website – from Lytham St. Annes FY8, next to Blackpool (screen shot in Figure 1). So at that time I first asked Mr Robertson for the address of EMS in Lytham St. Annes FY8. He refused to tell me.

    Figure 1. EMS job ad for “charity fundraiser” at 12 April 2016

    Figure 1. EMS job ad for “charity fundraiser” at 12 April 2016

  4. I then made the same request after proving the link between EMS and the company The Veterans Trust Limited (registered company number: 08945478). Andrew Penman had exposed professional fundraiser The Veterans Trust Limited in his Daily Mirror column in November 2014: the then Lytham St. Annes-based company had declined to reveal its fundraising costs, only divulging the alleged total amount of money it had passed to its then charity partner after raising money in its name. In December 2015, The Veterans Trust Limited changed its name to TVT Fundraising Ltd. Michael Figg is sole director of the company. Mr Figg was also a director of TVT Publications Ltd (registered company number: 09515278), which was incorporated on 27 March 2015. The registered office address was in Lytham St. Annes FY8. Initially, there was another director of TVT Publications Ltd: Nick Travis, the person behind Sterling Support, the official professional fundraiser for the notorious Blackpool-based military charity Families of the Brave. Both the Mirror’s Andrew Penman and I independently exposed Families of the Brave and its work with Sterling Support in 2014 (see my 20 December 2014 post and references therein).
  5. There’s a link between TVT Publications Ltd and EMS. Sean Smythe is sole director of EMS. And Mr Smythe posted a job ad for “magazine/wristband fundraisers” on the Birmingham Jobs Facebook page in the name of TVT Publications Ltd from Lytham St. Annes FY8. The ad is dated 13 April 2015 (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Sean Smythe job ad for TVT Publications Ltd at 12 April 2016

    Figure 2. Sean Smythe job ad for TVT Publications Ltd at 12 April 2016

  6. On 13 September 2016, TVT Publications Ltd was compulsorily struck-off the register at Companies House without filing any accounts. So much for its financial reporting – or lack of. Meanwhile, days later (on 21 September 2016), Mr Figg started another TVT Publications Ltd (registered company number: 10388268) – this time with a registered office address in Kirkham, a town midway between Blackpool and Preston.
  7. So it was a simple question for Mr Robertson in April 2016: what is the trading address of your official professional fundraiser? And he wouldn’t answer. But then he’s not the only one hiding the address: the EMS website isn’t forthcoming either. There isn’t actually much on the company website: no names of people, for instance. We only know about sole director Mr Smythe because of filings at Companies House. As we’ve repeatedly seen, there’s an unacceptable lack of clarity and transparency around money flows for these charities working with rip-off professional fundraisers. Yet on its website The Invicta Foundation doesn’t disclose the trading address of its official professional fundraiser – and won’t even do so upon request. Now, why doesn’t the charity want the public to know the details of the company?

The Leaver who can’t leave Vote Leave

  1. Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, is one of an endangered species – a Labour MP who campaigned for the UK to get out of the EU. He in fact went further, becoming a director of Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign. And there the MP, er, remains as a director, according to his entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests at 31 October 2016.
  2. Yet over at Companies House the picture is different. Mr Stringer resigned as a director of Vote Leave on 30 June 2016, a week after the EU referendum, filings show. So which is right?
  3. Companies House. On 10 November 2016, the Brexiteer MP told me in an email: “The Commons Registrar appears not to have received my earlier declaration that I was no longer a director and I have now emailed the Registrar asking for the record to be amended.” Leaving isn’t easy.

MPs’ hidden staff

  1. The register of MPs’ staff is always incomplete at any time because not all staff with parliamentary passes are included. Those holding passes for less than three months – so-called short-term passholders – aren’t registered. There’s potential for abuse because such individuals are hidden from the public record. Staff members actually on the register are required to declare lobbying or outside interests. But we aren’t even aware of the existence of some of those working for MPs.
  2. Remember Mr Downing who’d worked “earlier in the year” for Grant Shapps MP at parliament (see previous post). I couldn’t find him on archived copies of the register of MPs’ staff for earlier this year. So I asked Mr Shapps’ parliamentary office for the exact dates to ensure I was looking at the appropriate version of the register – if it was available. Luckily I found one – but Mr Downing wasn’t there, which I didn’t understand. He should surely have been present on the register then, I thought.
  3. But no, according to Philippa Wainwright, Assistant Registrar in the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at the House of Commons. The dates for Mr Downing indicate that he’d been a passholder for less than three months at the date of the register. And so-called short-term passholders aren’t registered, she said in an email.
  4. Where does it say this on the parliament website? Er, nowhere. In particular, this fact isn’t disclosed in the documentation with the register itself, which is strange. This fact should surely be explicitly stated so that the public is aware that the register is always incomplete at any time.
  5. Why are short-term passholders not registered anyway? Ms Wainwright, who is responsible for the register of MPs’ staff, explained in an email: “The staff register was set up in the mid-1980s following a report to the House by the Select Committee on Members’ Interests. In that report (its first report of session 1984-85, HC 408) the committee recommended that ‘the requirement to register be limited to those with permanent passes’. The report, including that recommendation, was subsequently approved by the House.”
  6. The exclusion of short-term passholders is the second way I’ve found the register of MPs’ staff to be open to potential abuse. Previously, I exposed the problems, actual and potential, arising from the fact that it’s solely the responsibility of the staff member to make appropriate disclosures on the register. The registration form to declare relevant interests requires that individual’s signature only. There’s no formal requirement for the MP to validate in any way the information disclosed (see my 15 February 2016 post).
  7. The level of disclosure required in the staff register of interests is poor,” said the Guardian in March 2015: www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/05/300-staff-working-for-peers-and-mps-have-lobbying-interests-analysis-reveals. The newspaper was referring to the inadequate disclosure of lobbying or outside interests by MPs’ staff. The Guardian is wrong: it’s worse than that. Some of those working for MPs are legitimately hidden from the public record.

UPDATE: Has Grant Shapps got another alter ego?

  1. I’ve now (evening) received a reply from Grant Shapps’ parliamentary office (see previous post).
  2. Freddie Downing “was a former employee in Grant Shapps’ parliamentary office, who carried out the preliminary research earlier in the year for the most recent British Infrastructure Group report.”
  3. Document “author” Mr Downing isn’t credited in the report, let alone identified. I wonder why he’s airbrushed from history.

Has Grant Shapps got another alter ego?

  1. UK’s mobile phone scam,” screamed the front page of the Daily Mail on 29 October 2016. A new report from something calling itself the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG) says that 17M of us have poor mobile phone reception at home – or none at all. It identified 525 “not spots” where mobile coverage is non-existent. Foreign visitors often get a better signal than UK residents. BIG’s findings were widely reported in the press that day.
  2. It’s easier to say what BIG is not than what it is. It’s not a parliamentary select committee, nor is it listed on the latest register of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) (at 12 October 2016). There is, though, an infrastructure APPG, chaired by Stephen Hammond MP, on the register. BIG is a cross-party group of MPs “dedicated to promoting better infrastructure across the United Kingdom.” (But who doesn’t want better infrastructure?) Grant Shapps, the former cabinet minister, is chair. And it was Mr Shapps, also an ex-chair of the Conservatives, who popped up on TV and radio on 29 October 2016 promoting the latest BIG report.
  3. Freddie Downing” is the author of the report PDF document, according to the PDF metadata (screen shot in Figure 1). Yet there’s no reference to “Freddie Downing” in the document, which is strange if he is indeed the author. Maxine Vining is acknowledged on the cover for research (“Research by Maxine Vining”).

    Figure 1. PDF document properties – author of BIG report “Mobile Coverage: A good call for Britain?” at 31 October 2016

    Figure 1. PDF document properties – author of BIG report “Mobile Coverage: A good call for Britain?” at 31 October 2016

  4. Ms Vining works for Mr Shapps at parliament, the latest register of MPs’ staff (at 20 September 2016) shows. But Mr Downing isn’t on the register as working for any MP there.
  5. So who is “Freddie Downing”? Is he another of Mr Shapps’ alter egos? I refer, of course, to the senior Tory’s notorious use of the pseudonym Michael Green to flog a get-rich-quick scheme online. On 29 October 2016, I therefore asked Mr Shapps these two legitimate questions in an email to his personal address at parliament.
  6. At date of publication (early morning) I haven’t received a reply.