Stuart Garner walks free: Former Norton Motorcycles owner gets suspended sentence

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The former owner of Norton Motorcycles, Stuart Garner, has received an eight-month prison sentence suspended for two years after pleading guilty to illegal pension investments.  

The 53-year-old appeared before Derby Crown Court on Thursday, March 31, for sentencing and received three 12-month sentences, reduced to eight months, to be served concurrently. These were then suspended for two years.

“This is not just financial harm,” said Judge Nirmal Shant QC. “I have read statement after statement on the damage you have done to the people involved.

The fact that banks and other institutions were not prepared to loan to your business should’ve been an alarm bell to you as an experienced businessman.”

An estimated £11million was invested into the Norton business across three pension contribution schemes – Dominator 2012, Commando 2012 and Donington MC – of which Garner was the sole trustee.

These investments were made between 2012 and 2013, with 227 people pledging money in return for preference shares. These shares were issued by Norton Motorcycle Holdings Ltd, for which Garner was both the director and majority shareholder.

Approximately £1.5million has been paid back out to members, however a shortfall of around £10million remains. Insolvency practitioners for Norton Motorcycles Ltd are now investigating how much money may be passed to the scheme following the eventual liquidation of the Norton companies.

Under the Employer Related Investment (ERI) rules, no more than 5% of the total value of the schemes should have been used, however most of the money in each scheme was invested in Norton.

Subject to certain exceptions, it is a criminal offence to invest more than 5% of the current market value of scheme resources in ERIs, meaning Garner’s actions were then passed to the court by The Pensions Regulator (TPR).

On top of his sentence, the former Norton man was also ordered to pay £20,716.69 in costs – despite being declared bankrupt on May 26, 2021 – and disqualified from being a director for three years.

Judge Shant also spoke of how Garner’s actions had led to investors reporting problems sleeping, relationship difficulties and the prospect of having to work longer before retirement.

William Hays, prosecuting, said: “The Pensions Regulator would note that as of today £10million of pension money is outstanding.

“Some of that was paid in 10 years ago and [has] caused considerable hardship for people unable to withdraw it. This was an offence committed with a reckless state of mind,” he continued.

Peter Caldwell, mitigating, said: “The object of the scheme was simply to offer an investment opportunity – it was not an objective to act unlawfully.

“It’s hard for me to express his apology in writing. Your Honour should understand that he sincerely does convey his remorse to you and others.”

Nicola Parish, Executive Director of Frontline Regulation at TPR, said: “Despite being an experienced businessman, Stuart Garner illegally took money from three pension schemes in his care to prop up his struggling business.

“As a result of Mr Garner’s criminality, savers, whose interests he was supposed to safeguard as a trustee, have been affected by substantial financial losses to their retirement savings and have been caused significant distress. It is only the right he is punished for this.”


Stuart Garner pleads guilty to illegal pension investments

First published on 8 February 2022 by Jordan Gibbons

Former Norton CEO Stuart Garner

Stuart Garner, the former owner of Norton Motorcycles, has admitted to illegally investing an estimated £11m from the firm’s pension scheme back into the business.

Garner was the sole trustee of three contribution schemes (Dominator 2012, Commando 2012 and Donington MC) that invested in Norton. Between 2012 and 2013, 227 people invested in the scheme in return for preference shares.

Under the employer-related investment (ERI) rules, no more than 5% of the total value of the schemes should have been invested, however each scheme was invested in Norton in full.

Subject to certain exceptions, it is a criminal offence to invest more than 5% of the current market value of scheme resources in ERIs, so Garner’s actions were passed to the court by The Pensions Regulator (TPR).

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On Monday February 7, the 53-year-old pleaded guilty to three charges of breaching employer-related investment rules – one for each scheme. Handing him unconditional bail, District Judge Jonathan Taaffe said: “I acknowledge this is a complex matter and it was clearly a conflict of interest involving substantial amounts.

“This clearly crosses the custodial threshold and I am sending the case to Derby Crown Court.”

The maximum penalty for a breach of ERI rules is an unlimited fine and/or a prison sentence of up to two years.

Nicola Parish, Executive Director of Frontline Regulation at TPR, said: “As a trustee, Stuart Garner failed to comply with restrictions on investments which are designed to protect the funds of pension schemes. Trustees have a vital role in protecting the benefits of members and we will take action where that responsibility is abused.

“Trustees should be clear on when a pension scheme can invest in its sponsoring employer.”

Garner was previously found at fault by The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) who ordered him to pay back £14m to the motorcycle manufacturer’s pension scheme. Garner is due to appear at 10am on 28 February at Derby Crown Court for sentencing.


Garner faces prosecution: Ex-Norton man due in court over pensions

First published on 23 August 2021 by Jordan Gibbons

Stuart Garner

Stuart Garner, a former owner and director of Norton Motorcycles, is facing prosecution for investments made into the business by three pension schemes for which he was the sole trustee.

Garner, 52, has been accused of breaching Employer Related Investment (ERI) rules for investing more than five percent of assets from each of the three schemes into Norton Motorcycle Holdings Ltd.

Garner was the sole trustee for three Defined Contribution schemes: Dominator 2012, Commando 2012 and Donington MC, which have 227 members. The investments were made between 2012 and 2013, in return for preference shares.

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The ERI rules set out that, subject to certain exceptions, not more than 5% of the current market value of the pension scheme assets may be invested in ERI at any time.

  

The restrictions don’t just apply to the employer but also to any investment parties associated with the employer and any property used by the employer.

Trustees who breach these restrictions are liable to be prosecuted and if found guilty, face a maximum of two years in prison or a £50,000 fine.

The prosecution has been brought by the Pensions Regulator, which oversee work-based pension schemes. They differ from the Pensions Ombudsman, which is primarily a dispute resolution service, in that it can bring criminal charges for wrongdoing.

Garner has been summoned to appear at Derby Magistrates’ Court on November 15 charged with three separate ERI offences under section 40(5) of the Pensions Act 1995 – one in relation to each scheme.


Former Norton boss Stuart Garner ‘acted dishonestly’ says Pensions Ombudsman

First published on 25 June 2020 by Andy Calton

Former Norton owner Stuart Garner

The Pensions Ombudsman has ruled that Stuart Garner, sole trustee of the three pension funds wholly invested in Norton Motorcycles, of which Garner was Director at the time – “acted dishonestly and in breach of his duty of no conflict.”

Following complaints made by 30 pension investors, a hearing was held in February this year, which Garner failed to attend. That hearing revealed that investors had paid in up to £170,000 each to the funds and had since been unable to recoup their funds, despite many attempts to do so.

Garner told the Ombudsman that he had concerns for his personal safety which is why he didn’t attend the February hearing, even though security was promised.

The Ombudsman, Anthony Arter, ruled that Garner has to “pay back to the Schemes the amount lost on investment, less any money already recovered.” Although the exact figure is unclear, members were submitted to the pension schemes between April 2012 and December 2013, transferring funds from other pension arrangements.

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The total amount transferred into the schemes was £10,931,647. The Ombudsman has also directed that interest of 8% per annum from the date of the initial investment would also be payable to each investor, as this is considered to be the likely fund growth had the sums been invested in a bona fide scheme.

The Ombudsman also ruled that Garner should pay £6000 to each of the 30 complainants “in recognition of the distress and inconvenience cause to them by the Trustee’s exceptional maladministration.” He also ruled that the firm which administered the scheme, LD Administration LTD, should pay each complainant £3000 in recognition of the same – both within 28 days.

Garner asked for this ruling to be reconsidered as it would result in him commencing bankruptcy proceedings, but the Ombudsman added: “I do not consider it appropriate to leave it up to him to make ex gratia payments as he sees fit.”

Garner claims £2m was paid back to investors and the Ombudsman does note that bank statements show evidence of this. Garner said in his statement to the Ombudsman that he “always acted honestly”, although he accepts that he did not have experience of the role (of a pensions trustee).

He added: “At all stages, I have sought to act in the members’ best financial interests. I considered Norton to be a great investment and I did my best to make the business a success. When I came to realise that there were problems with my own position and the liquidity of the business as the basis of the investment, I tried to put things right. I have worked hard to sell the business to new owners and to achieve the best value for members.”

Former Norton boss Stuart Garner

Garner also said he placed his trust in the wrong people when the pension schemes were first set up. Those involved, Peter Bradley and Andrew Meeson were jailed for tax fraud in 2013. Another, Simon Colfer (who was acting under a false name), was convicted of fraud in 2018 for the way he had promoted these, and other, schemes.

However, the Ombudsman stated in his judgement: “I find that the Trustee (Garner) acted in breach of trust by failing to fulfil his duty to avoid conflicts of interest and his duty to not profit from his position as Trustee.

“In my judgment, it is this general blunting of his moral antennae which explains why the Trustee had a lower standard of honesty, as well as his recklessness for others’ rights.

“I conclude, on the balance of probabilities, having regard to the evidence and submissions received, that the Trustee’s belief that investing the entirety of the Schemes’ funds in [Norton Motorcycles] Holdings was in the members’ interests, and his failure to take advice on the matter, or inform himself of his responsibilities and duties as a pension scheme trustee, was so unreasonable that no reasonable trustee could have held such a belief.”

Ombudsman Arter concluded that Garner had acted “dishonestly”, that there were inadequate controls in place to manage conflicts of interest and that there was a failure to ensure investments were “appropriate for scheme members.”

Norton went into administration in January after Metro Bank called in administrators BDO. The company was sold in April to Indian motorcycle manufacturing giant TVS, who are currently working to start production and fulfil outstanding customer orders.

The findings are final and binding, subject to an appeal to the High Court. A separate investigation by The Pensions Regulator is ongoing.

Dan Sutherland

By Dan Sutherland

News Editor, sportsbike nut, and racing fan.