Eastbourne Tory quits group amid fresh financial allegations

Cllr Patrick Warner 25th May 2011 E21147M ENGSNL00120110526173132
Cllr Patrick Warner 25th May 2011 E21147M ENGSNL00120110526173132

A Conservative councillor has resigned from the party whip this week after fresh financial details of his failed business were revealed.

Patrick Warner said on Wednesday night he would not be resigning from Eastbourne Borough Council where he represents the ward of Sovereign, but would remain as an independent councillor until the elections in May when he will not stand.

He told the Herald his commitment to public service was important to him, it had been a challenging time for him personally and he remained committed to keeping up payments on personally guaranteed business debts.

The resignation followed fresh calls for him to step down as it was revealed that when Mr Warner was the director at Sterling Automotive in Eastbourne, tax deducted from employees’ wages were not paid to HMRC, and two former friends of Mr Warner, ex-Meads councillor Nigel Goodyear and Paul Taylor, the son of Conservative stalwart Barry Taylor, who invested more than £100,000 between them, have been left out of pocket and never saw any returns on their investment.

Both men have called for Mr Warner to step down because they believe he is “dishonourable” and should not hold public office at Eastbourne Borough Council, as have a handful of other creditors who were told they have no chance of recouping their money.

Sterling Automotive Ltd went into liquidation in December 2011 with debts of more than £225,000.

Mr Warner, who now works as a business development manager with Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company, also hit the headlines last year when he was taken to court by Eastbourne Borough Council for not paying council tax on his home in St Lawrence Mews in Sovereign Harbour. He has county court judgements for thousands of pounds.

Nigel Goodyear, who quit as a Conservative councillor in April 2012 because of the business row with Mr Warner, said this week, “I appreciate that an unwise investment or an investment that subsequently fails, is one thing and happens every day: I accept that but the way I was deceived which is only now being made public is another thing altogether.

“Patrick Warner is currently elected to public office and so holds a position of trust and responsibility to the people of Eastbourne: a position I believe he is manifestly unfit for and should relinquish immediately.”

Paul Taylor, whose family became friends with the Warners in 2002, gave Patrick Warner cash to set up Sterling Automotive in 2006 and became a sleeping partner.

“Aside from all the money that my family has lost, the deepest cut for us is the personal betrayal,” he said this week.

“We were thrown together by tragic circumstances. We entered into the business on trust. We were told the business was growing and our money was being invested but it was all a house of cards and he was using the business account as his own personal account paying for holidays, handbags and shopping trips.

“He should do the decent thing and resign from the council.”

Mr Warner set up Sterling Automotive Ltd with his wife Niomie as company secretary after he was sacked from Caffyns in Eastbourne for gross misconduct and lost a subsequent tribunal.

The business operated from Unit 4 Redward Business Park in Hammonds Drive and in late 2006, Mr Warner asked his friend Paul Taylor to invest in the firm.

In early 2011 Mr Warner also asked Mr Goodyear to invest in a new business venture called Sterling Automotive Brighton and Mr Goodyear, then a Meads councillor, agreed and believed his cash would finance a small showroom and sales office in Woodingdean.

In the months that followed Mr Goodyear said he discovered the £40,000 he invested was ploughed into the old Sterling Automotive business and not the new company.

Then in September 2011, Geoff Collier, whose company is the landlord of Unit 4 Redward Business Park where Sterling Automotive was based, called in the bailiffs as his property management company had not received any rent from Mr Warner’s firm.

Mr Warner then contacted Gerald Tingley, whose pension company owns neighbouring Unit 6 at Redward Business Park, and Mr Tingley agreed the company could move in there. But he too was left out pocket when rent was not paid.

Mr Warner resigned as a director of Sterling Automotive Ltd as the business collapsed owing thousands to creditors.

Among them was landlord Geoff Collier’s management company.

He told the Herald this month, “It is time Patrick Warner stepped down as a councillor.”

Barry Templeman was involved with Mr Warner when he wanted to open a new Sterling Automotive Brighton at Woodingdean.

Mr Templeman was running Prestige Car Care and told the Herald the plan was for Mr Warner to buy the business

“I agreed he could buy the business on a drip by drip basis which meant he would pay me over time,” said Mr Templeman. “I had to start chasing him for my money and payments got slower.

“I knew he was spinning me a line. As far as I’m concerned, Patrick Warner is not an honourable man.”

Also affected are former employees of the old Sterling Automotive Ltd business who have only recently discovered that tax they had deducted from their wages by the Warner family run company was never paid to HMRC and they have been told there is a shortfall in their contributions.

Three of the former employees Lee Weafer, Ben Barton and Kevin Murday have now set up their own business Vasstechnik in Westham but are angry and concerned at what they have discovered about the lack of tax the company paid on their behalf.

Kevin said, “In the beginning it was fine but then as time went on we had trouble getting paid and it is only in recent months that we have discovered that tax we thought the company was paying on our behalf was not paid to HMRC.

“Patrick spun us a line and told a lot of lies. He was always making excuses about why he couldn’t pay us. How he has managed to remain as a councillor overseeing public finances is just a joke.”

Eastbourne Tyre Company in Fort Road was also owed money by Mr Warner’s business.

Proprieter Keith Price said, “The way I see it is this: we sold goods to Patrick Warner’s company, the customers had paid him for those goods and he didn’t pay us. That is wrong.

“I don’t see how he can hold public office.”

Eastbourne businessman Gerald Tingley did receive the thousands he was owed in rent from Patrick Warner – but only after Nigel Goodyear took over running the business as a director of Sterling Automotive Brighton Ltd.

Mr Tingley let Mr Warner move into one of his own business units, Unit 6 Redward Business Park in Hammonds Drive when bailiffs prevented Mr Warner and Sterling Automotive from entering Unit 4.

Mr Tingley says Warner “begged and implored” him to let him into the unit to continue running the business and promised he wouldn’t let him down.

But Mr Tingley said within weeks it became clear Mr Warner had not signed the lease for the unit and was not paying rent.

Although Mr Warner offered Mr Tingley a cheque for £6,000 deposit that was in his father’s name, the management company could not cash it as the lease had still not been signed.

“Patrick Warner begged me and promised me faithfully he wouldn’t mess me about but I had nothing but hassle with him,” said Mr Tingley.

“I let him in on trust but I shouldn’t have done.

“I must have gone round there half a dozen times asking him to sign the lease but there was always some excuse and I felt as thought I was being fobbed off.”

In response to the fresh allegations, Mr Warner said, “The challenges I faced following the failure of my former business venture have already been widely covered by your newspaper. I took and carefully followed legal advice at the time. I have made arrangements and kept up payments on a considerable amount of personally guaranteed business debt and remain committed to doing so in the future.

“My commitment to public service is very important to me and I have remained committed to continuing to serve as a local councillor during what has personally been a very challenging time and I am proud of my achievements.

“However it has become clear to me that a small number of individuals are more interested in undermining my position and so for the sake of my family and colleagues across the council who do not deserve the negative publicity involved with the continuation of this story, I have decided to resign the Conservative whip, my shadow cabinet portfolio and my non-executive directorship of Eastbourne Homes with immediate effect.

“By the time my current term of office ends in a few months’ time, I shall have been involved in local politics for nearly 20 years and after careful consideration I have decided I will not seek re-election at that time. I hope that I will now be afforded the privacy to focus on providing for my family and continuing to pay my debts.”