The Pensions Ombudsman has finally brought to a close a seven-year case that left members of three pension schemes looking to recoup losses in excess of £14m.
However, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the Pensions Regulator in this case.
The three schemes – the Dominator 2012 Pension Scheme, Commando 2012 Pension Scheme, and Donington MC Pension Scheme – were established by Stuart Garner in 2012 in his capacity as director of Manorcrest, which was the schemes’ principal employer.
The ombudsman’s report noted that problems began early on, with the schemes promoted to prospective members as a means of investing in the marque Norton Motorcycles business, of which Mr Garner was the sole director and a shareholder.
The scheme's administration was initially undertaken by Peter Bradley and Andrew Meeson, directors of T12 Administration, whom Mr Garner had approached to set up and run the schemes.
They in turn introduced Mr Garner to Simon Colfer, sometimes known as Simon Davies, who undertook the promotion. In 2013, both Bradley and Meeson were jailed for pensions fraud in a separate case.
Consequently, as a Guardian/ITV News investigation in January showed, 228 scheme members had their entire pension pots invested in Norton companies illegally. The ombudsman’s report confirmed that at no point was investment advice taken by Mr Garner.
T12 folded after the imprisonment of two of its directors, and a new company, LD Administration, was brought in to administer the three schemes.
Margaret Liddell, director of LD, “agreed to take on the role of administrator in relation to approximately 300 schemes” from T12, including the three set up by Mr Garner, the ombudsman noted.
Ms Liddell told the Pensions Ombudsman that she and her staff “had received no training before LD was appointed as scheme administrator… and had no experience administering occupational pension schemes”.
According to the ombudsman’s report, Ms Liddell had viewed T12’s dissolution as “a business opportunity”.
After the deteriorating financial position of Norton became apparent, and in response to a number of complaints levelled by members in the years since the schemes were established, and after a previous investigation by the ombudsman revealed “a clear conflict of interest”, TPR appointed Dalriada Trustees to the schemes in June last year.
Dalriada took the decision in 2019 to support Norton in its bid to raise funds, telling scheme members that it “represents the best chance” of the schemes recovering their investments in full.
“Any attempt to extract funds now from the Norton business or, indeed Mr Garner personally, are not going to generate anything close to that figure,” they said.
Norton’s financial position continued to worsen, and it fell into administration in January this year.
Ombudsman finds several breaches
In his decision, ombudsman Anthony Arter said: “I have found a number of breaches by the trustee of his duties and maladministration on both [Mr Garner’s] and LD’s part.”