Preston Guild Hall's former owner Simon Rigby says he will fight bankruptcy over £500k loan
Simon Rigby is preparing to face bankruptcy proceedings over a disputed £500,000 unpaid loan.
And it has emerged the businessman could now see numerous proceedings started against him, including one from Preston City Council over allegations of business rate debts.
Kingsway Asset Finance Ltd, a Wilmslow-based firm, has filed for bankruptcy against Mr Rigby, and will go to court on July 22 in a bid to reclaim a £500,000 made to one of his companies.
Mr Rigby has told the Lancashire Post the proceedings are over a dispute over how quickly the loan is repaid.
Kingsway Asset Finance Ltd declined to comment.
But Preston City Council’s (PCC) leader Matthew Brown yesterday said Mr Rigby was responsible for “significant debt” and said the council may join the bankruptcy case against him.
It comes after PCC took back control of Preston Guild Hall after Mr Rigby placed it into administration.
The 57-year-old looks almost certain to challenge the city council over that decision.
Mr Rigby insists he will not be personally appearing in court for the scheduled bankruptcy proceedings, which relate to a loan to Clifton Quality Meats, which went into administration last August with estimated liability of almost £3m.
The Blackpool-based meat suppliers went bust despite borrowing the cash to stay afloat - a loan for which Mr Rigby was personal guarantor.
He revealed that, despite an agreement to repay the debt at a rate of £50,000 a year over 10 years, the lender had now demanded the full amount and had launched a bankruptcy petition to recover the money.
“We are going to pay it - there’s no doubt about that,” he told the Post. “It’s just a question of how. We can’t agree on what the repayment terms should be.
“We say £50,000 a year for 10 years. They are saying they want the whole lot now.
“So a judge will decide on what is fair. I have not been called to appear in County Court. The lawyers will be doing that. Both sides are just submitting documentation and the judge will come to a decision based on that.
“Unfortunately two or three others have jumped on the bandwagon and come in on the back of this petition.”
While the names of the other creditors seeking legal redress have not been revealed, Preston Council has said it could join in to recover money it claims it is owed by Mr Rigby’s organisation over the Guild Hall complex. The authority has yet to decide whether to go ahead or not.
“The scheduled bankruptcy hearing has been brought to our attention,” said council leader Coun Matthew Brown.
“It has become apparent that Mr Rigby is responsible for significant debts as personal guarantor and there is an expectation that a number of these creditors will seek to join in on this bankruptcy hearing.
“Unfortunately Preston City Council is among this number, and we are actively considering using this, or any other reasonable means to recover the money owed.
“We hope that Mr Rigby is able to settle these debts and resolution is found.”
The council seized back the Guild Hall complex from Mr Rigby last week, with a team of workmen moving in overnight to change the locks.
Businesses in the ground level shopping arcade were also barred from entering their premises, although all but one were allowed back later in the day.
However a nursery owned by Mr Rigby’s wife was refused permission to re-open, leaving parents of around 30 children searching for alternative child care. The future of six staff at the Safehands Nursery is now uncertain.
The businessman, who rescued the Guild Hall from being mothballed by the council five years ago, says he has pumped around £6m into the venture, money he is unlikely to recover.
The council said it had acted on Friday morning to take back control of the complex citing “significant breaches” of the lease agreement. A Town Hall statement accused Mr Rigby of “unacceptable behaviour” in the way he had been running the venue.
But even last night, a full four days after the council’s capture of the building, Mr Rigby was insisting he had not heard a word from council officials.
“No one has notified me of a single breach of the lease,” he said.
“As for the bankruptcy petition involving Clifton Quality Meats, this has been going through the courts for months. We expect it to be concluded before too long.”