Allegations made by the pension fund members whose money was tied up in Norton shares were heard yesterday (Thursday) by the pensions ombudsman – but Norton owner Stuart Garner failed to attend the meeting even though he was scheduled to do so.
Garner was meant to show up to answer claims from 30 separate members of three separate retirement funds set up and the Norton boss. Amidst the cases put forward were claims that funds were not delivered to the members when due.
An investigation by both The Guardian and ITV News last month revealed that 228 people had their pensions invested via Garner’s scheme into Norton shares, and this had happened after they had been ‘duped’ by fraudster Simon Colfer.
With Norton falling into administration on January 29, the value of the shares in the company plummeted, leaving the pensions pots in what would appear an untenable position.
During the hearing cases were presented where it was claimed that Garner hadn’t returned people’s pension pots when asked and that this had been going on for years. The Pensions Schemes Act says that trustees of pensions have to transfer pensions within six months of an application to transfer being received.
Garner received funds from pension holders during 2012 and 2013. The pensions holders transferred their retirement pots from standard pensions providers to Garner’s funds. They were led to believe that they would get a tax-free sum for agreeing the transfer – this was not the case and the monies they did receive then went on to land them with a ‘substantial’ tax bill.
In 2018 Simon Colfer, who had sold the scheme and was paid ‘significant’ fees from the customer’s retirement funds, was convicted of fraud.
A company called T12 Administration who registered the Norton scheme with the HMRC and effectively ran the administration also fell foul of the practice. Andrew Meeson and Peter Bradley, two directors of T12, were both convicted of a separate tax fraud in 2013, that was for them reclaiming £5m of tax rebates from fictitious pension contributions.
During the trial of Meeson and Bradley it emerged that around £4m of the money received by the pair was then paid out by them to family and associates – one of those being Stuart Garner who received a £990,000 loan which he used to buy Norton in 2008.
Garner has gone on record as saying denying any wrongdoing and says that he didn’t know he was dealing with fraudsters when setting up and running the pensions schemes.
Stuart Garner has also said that he considers himself to be a victim in this matter.