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Former Shropshire boss declared bankrupt with debts of more than £22 million

Telford | News | Published:

A former boss of Claims Direct and chief executive of Shrewsbury Town FC has been declared bankrupt with debts of more than £22 million.

Colin David Poole, who made millions when he floated the personal injury firm on the London Stock Exchange, owed £22.55 million to creditors, but has assets worth just £2, official documents show.

Telford-based Claims Direct was valued at up to £700 million after its flotation, but amid a flurry of negative publicity relating to the insurance costs paid by clients, its share price plummeted and it collapsed into liquidation in the early 2000s.

Grosvenor House, the former home of Claims Direct in Telford

Colin Poole made millions when Claims Direct floated on the stock market in July 2000 for 180p per share.

Three months later, the share price peaked at 353.5p each, valuing the Telford-based personal injury company at £700 million. But shortly after that its value tumbled in the wake of a spate of negative publicity.

By June 2001, Mr Poole and his business partner Anthony Sullman were putting together a bid to regain full control of the personal injury firm, valuing it at just 10p per share, or a total of £19.4 million.

Reports from the time suggest that the duo netted about £50 million from the flotation.

Criticisms of Claims Direct centred on its £1,200-plus insurance policies which customers were asked to take out to protect them against losing their claims, leaving some clients with little to show for their journey through the courts.

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A media mauling ensued, during which time Claims Direct was denounced as "ambulance chasing", and within months of the company floating and attracting the attention of thousands of investors, it was in the doldrums.

Jobs were cut from the company's operation in Central Park in Telford. In July 2002 shares were suspended at just 3.25p – 99 per cent below their peak a year before – and the company was placed into receivership.

By that time, Mr Poole and his founding partner had stepped down as directors.

The company was more than £6 million in debt when it called in the receivers, and creditors were warned they had little chance of recovering their cash.

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The year before it ceased trading, the company was heading towards a £23 million loss, adding to an £18 million deficit from 2001.

Mr Poole is now part of an equestrian business run from Netley Hall, near Dorrington, although he is disqualified from acting as a director until 2018.

He claims the 14-bedroom property is owned by his wife, and that he has no money with which to pay his creditors.

Official documents released by the High Court of Justice show that Mr Poole does not believe he has any interest in Netley Hall, although official enquiries are being made into whether this is the case.

The petition for bankruptcy was originally brought by HM Revenue and Customs in May last year.

The middle-aged former solicitor, who was a senior partner with Poole & Company Solicitors, was struck off in 2011 after being accused of behaving in a way to compromise his independence and integrity and which could impair his duty to act in the best interests of his clients.

He was appointed to the board of directors in Shrewsbury Town in 2004, having been acting as the unpaid chief executive since January that year. He remained a director until 2007, and was later connected to a failed attempted takeover of local rivals Wrexham.

The vast bulk of the debts relate to court proceedings taken against Mr Poole by a franchisee of a former company of which he was a director.

Around £21 million of the debt is listed is miscellaneous, with the court documents showing that this is the largest part of the debt.

He also says part of the debt relates to tax planning initiatives which he entered after scooping £9.75 million from the sale of shares in 2000. He now owes the government £1.3 million.

The official report says: "The bankrupt sought to enter into a tax planning initiative, with the intention of deferring the tax liability and making alternative provision for payment of taxes in later years from investments.

"He further states that these investments have not been successful, and he has been unable to pay the tax when it fell due."

He also owes £27,679 to other financial institutions, £15,500 to insurance companies and £5,000 to solicitors.

Mr Poole claims that his income recently has come from consultancy fees and from Netley Hall Holidays. He says that the money has met his living expenses but that he is unable to pay his creditors.

Netley Hall is used as a wedding location and is also home to Netley Hall Equestrian.

Mr Poole today declined to comment on the proceedings.

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