HALL RIGHT NOW: The men who would run Pompey and why they shouldn't... #2
Tuesday, 12th Feb 2013 08:52 by Micah Hall
After Keith Harris, next up from the triumvirate of would-be Pompey investors is Alan John Frank Hitchins, a "professional investor" according to the Harris PR company, Square1 Consulting. Given we've had a quite a few evidently amateur ones in PFC's recent past, this sounds encouraging at least...
We called back a third time. This time, initially at least, Bick confirmed it was the one-and-same Alan Hitchins. When I began asking questions about the material in this blog he went away to check again with Harris whether this was the right Alan Hitchins. When he returned he simply said "I am not authorised to discuss our investors, two of whom are passive investors."
That didn't exactly inspire me with confidence. Harris's consortium put the name in the public domain and gave some of his background to myself and other journalists, yet now they seemed to be fighting shy of confirming who he is.
Eventually we confirmed we had the right Alan Hitchins by other means and Bick finally re-confirmed we had the right man late on Tuesday. And Bick was adamant: "Keith only does business with people he knows really well" and "you can trust Keith, he knows exactly what he is doing".
Let's see how this grand claim stands up to examination.
There is only one Alan Hitchins on LinkedIn, based in Bromley, Kent. His profile, such as it is, is available here. He seems to have just one connection and Alan clearly hasn't quite got the hang of LinkedIn, particularly has he hasn't bothered to list all his current and former companies on his CV.
So, let's do that for him.
First up Bestfeed Ltd. A company called tokenhelp.com have created a web page warning of the dangers of doing business with Hitchins and describes Bestfeed's failure to pay a county court judgement. Read all about it here and see a copy of the judgment here.
Fortunately, Bestfeed Ltd were struck off without filing any accounts so little danger of anyone else being let down by them, but that's no accounts and a county court judgement to get us started. I'm sure Keith knows all about it.
Still, Hitchins does have a viable business and job to add to all that 'professional investing' he does. He is a vet. Yes, a vet. In exotic Chislehurst, Kent. Under the name Streambank Ltd, which changed in September 2012 from Streambank Trading Ltd, the company trades as Ark Veterinary Clinic. You can see details of the business here. The company has had one or two issues with filing its accounts on time, but has avoided thus far being struck off the companies' register. The latest Annual Accounts submitted to Companies House for the year up to November 30, 2010 reported 'cash at bank' of £994, 'liabilities' worth £16,268, 'net worth' of £-8,612 and 'assets' worth £7,656.
Keith, no doubt, knows all about this too. He has probably had his dog's boils lanced by Alan for many years. I rang Ark to see if I could speak to Alan but according to the nice lady who answered the phone he only works Saturdays now, because he has 'other work'.
But there's more. Here are some of Hitchins' other businesses, using Companies House as a guide. What's this one? Black Sea Chemical Co Ltd. Started in 1992 as a company called 'MedalGreat Limited' it was struck off by Companies House for failing to file accounts. It was based in the exotic Black Sea resort of Ilford, Essex.
And another one. Vulture Ltd. Founded in August 1996 as Jointvoice Ltd, it became a comedy club, (Buffoonery Comedy Clubs Ltd) two months later. It then branched out into Agricultural Services before being struck off for failing to file accounts.
What about Trafalgar House Securities Limited? The imposing sounding Trafalgar House began life as Oakmade Limited. Again, you know the drill. Struck off for failing to file accounts.
The list goes on. And on.
Newhall Ltd - struck off for failing to file accounts.
Anglelink Ltd - struck off for failing to file accounts.
Classtime Ltd - struck off for failing to file accounts.
Linelight Ltd - struck off for failing to file accounts.
Redban Ltd - struck off for failing to file accounts.
(The last five were all registered as c/o an accountants office in London, you might have thought that they would be able to knock up a set of accounts if asked).
Caucusus Mountain Marble - not based too near the Caucusus in London, and struck off for failing to file accounts.
Mayfair Gold Ltd - struck off for failing to file accounts.
Ark Clinics Ltd did file some accounts before being struck off for... Yes. You guessed it. The published accounts are how you can tell they owed £112,351 on contracts within one year, had a net book value of MINUS £98,925 and the princely sum of £225 in the bank.
Pharm Aid Consultants Ltd did better - owing only £250 when struck off for... Monotonous I know, and with cash of precisely £0.
Vetwise Ltd, book value MINUS £69,670, was struck off for you know what, but at least Alan had resigned as a director two years previously.
Blue Island Residents Association - At last! We are cooking! We have a business worth £16,771 AND it files accounts. Problem is, Alan Hitchins hasn't been a director of the compnay for 20 years. He resigned in 1992 bringing his 13 month stint to an end.
So that is 13 companies dissolved, seven directorships retired and three current directorships. However. There is one more company, the one he owns up to on LinkedIn...
What appears to be Hitchins' main business is called Strait Oil & Gas (UK) Ltd. Rather like diversifying from comedy into agricultural services, Hitchins has moved from veterinary surgery into oil exploration in Georgia, that well-worn career arc. Although maybe not. He is described on the list of directors as a 'veterinary surgeon'. Should come in handy should an oil well break a fetlock.
Strait Oil's website, http://www.straitoil.ge/ has a page on which you can view live streaming of what appears to be nothing at all, possibly snow, possibly just the camera is not working. There is a lovely picture of an oil well against the setting sun. As the company appears to have £3,000 of tangible assets, one wonders whose oil well this is, but I'm sure they will be happy to tell us.
Strait Oil is 60% owned by Red Emperor Ltd and Range Resources. By one of those weird Pompey coincidences, both these firms are represented by the same PR agency as Portpin, Tavistock Communications. Tavistock's website boasts of their role in takeovers, mergers and acquisitions. We asked them whether they suggested Alan Hitchins to join the consortium but their answer did not arrive in time for us to include in this piece.
Red Emperor shares are trading at £0.030 in London and their Australian price is at $0.047 Aud. Range Resources are doing better at $0.052 AUD and a whopping £3.28 on the AIM market in the UK, down from £16 earlier this year.
Range Resources does do some drilling around the world, often it seems in the environmentally disastrous field of shale gas, better known as fracking, hence their need to employ Tavistock. And if you do a bit of Googling, boy do they need their PR people.
But what of Strait Oil & Gas? Their quarterly report can be found here.Whilst there is lots of interesting stuff about geology, there seems to be no oil or gas. Strait Oil and Gas (UK) Ltd has managed to avoid one strike off by Companies House already and had to restate their accounts.
Their most recent accounts are qualified by their auditors BDO because of a failure to prepare group financial statements in contravention of the Companies Act 2006.
As far as we can see, Alan Hitchins doesn't even own a significant stake in Strait Oil. As discussed above, 60% is owned by Red Emperor and Range Resources and the other 40% by a hotch-potch of small companies, many based out of Gibraltar and on which there is virtually no information such websites, stock prices and so on.
In the year ending December 2010 Strait Oil show an operating loss of £283,097. For the first six months of 2011 it is £147,124. For each of the last two years their operating turnover is about £750,000, so these losses are significant and incurred purely because administrative expenses exceeded income. Alan Hitchin's salary is £72,000 pa. Their tangible assets are £3,391, according to a note in the accounts the value of PCs and so on. Its cash at bank is £201,164.
The company runs from what appear to be serviced offices - a postal address and a phone answering service in Jermyn Street in London - where the only oil is in the hair of the tailors. It seems to share the building with a shoe shop and an international pharmaceutical company. The other company who share this address is Range Resources of course, who own 20% of Strait Oil. Must be crowded in there, but at least if the oil spills on your shoes you can pop downstairs and buy some new ones.
Strait Oil and Gas is entirely reliant on shareholder loans to trade, £5m of which are repayable within a year. These loans will have provided the funds to purchase the licenses in Georgia, intangible assets of £10,693,208, described as 'Investments'. What they paid for them is open to question, because the value of the investments is for the company to determine. Whatever. The true value of a so far oil-less oil field in Georgia is this: the company has £200,000 in cash and £5m to repay next year. That is all very well, except for the fact that there appears to be no oil or gas. Better hope they hit a gusher soon...
One of Hitchins' fellow directors at Strait Oil between 2009 and 2011, rejoiced in the name Damian Conboy. He was struck off by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
Following an investigation, ASIC found that Mr Conboy did not perform his duties efficiently, honestly and fairly and was not a fit and proper person to be a representative.
ASIC made the banning order after findings which included that Mr Conboy:
♦ excessively traded on clients’accounts which incurred debts
♦ breached ASX Listing Rules relating to the settling of trading
♦ traded on an unauthorised account
♦ incurred personal debts and failed to ensure clients settled within prescribed settlement terms
♦ lied to ASIC during its investigation
The full statement can be found here.
This was ten years before his involvement with Strait Oil - which means you have to question why Alan Hitchins would want to be on a board of directors with him.
Another person you might want to think about sharing a Board with is Mustafa Mutlu, a Turkish Cypriot, who is currently sharing a place in the Strait Oil & Gas (UK) Ltd Boardroom with Alan. The Independent in 1994 detailed some of Mr Mutlu's interesting past here which led to a British Peer, Lord Erskine, naming him in the House of Lords as being a director of a British registered company, Summit (Consortium) Limited, which was involved in organising an illegal arms deal with Azerbaijan. Mr Mutlu's British directorships are listed here.
Ethical issues aside, an arguably bigger question from a Pompey perspective is obvious. I am sure Alan Hitchins is a brilliant vet and will eventually strike oil in Georgia. However, if he represents a third of Mr Harris's consortium planning to 'invest' in PFC - and this is a man Keith 'knows really well' and can 'trust' - then it's hard to see where he has made any significant money. Certainly if the proposition is that he has millions of pounds to invest as pure equity then I would expect to see some big companies somewhere. If Hitchins is a rich man, his wealth is as subterranean as, well, a Joseph Cala casino.
As always, we would happily invite Mr Hitchins to talk to us about where the money for his takeover bid is coming from, but we haven't been able to track him down yet. If only we'd known he only works weekends clipping dogs' claws and such like. I'm sure Hitchins is a very nice bloke and decent human being - he certainly seems to be kind to animals, although we're not so sure about some of the human company he keeps - but Pompey fans have learnt over the recent past to be very sceptical of anyone whose source of claimed wealth is not immediately apparent.
Last time: Keith Harris
Micah Hall wishes it to be known that he has received no legal threats and has simply been busy with trying to ensure the fans' takeover of the club is a success.
The views of Micah Hall are his own and don't necessarily reflect the editorial view of pompey-fans.com. Any proceeds of this column are donated to Action Aid.
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