PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR
This a complicated story, so I advise you to pay attention. I’ve written about Dawnus and Hydro Industries a few times in recent years, but now I want to go back, ten years and more, to the start of this story. I shall use information from a number of sources, primarily Rebecca Television, the greatly missed Cneifiwr blog, and another well-informed source.
We’ll begin in March 2006 when it became clear that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was winding down its Llangennech site in Llanelli and the prospect was causing some consternation in the locality.
The local Labour MP was Nia Griffith, and of course there was a Labour government in Westminster at the time. Griffith asked a question about Llangennech in the House of Commons. For the government, Don Touhig, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans) Ministry of Defence, confirmed that the Llangennech site would close by mid-2008.
Soon after the closure, early in 2009, the ‘Independent’-Labour-run Carmarthenshire County Council purchased the site and immediately sold it on to a commercial entity. Which raised a number of questions, aired in this report from May of that year.
First, why couldn’t this commercial entity, R & A Properties, have bought the site from the MoD? Second, why wasn’t R & A Properties registered with Companies House? Third, who was behind R & A Properties?
The answer to the first question will be given later.
Question 3 was answered very quickly when we were told that one of those behind the scheme was David Francis Pickering, former captain of the national rugby team and then chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). Working with his “lifelong friend” Robert Nigel Lovering.
Not only that, but Pickering is a big supporter of the Labour Party. He got into some trouble in 2010 for using his position at the WRU “to organise a £1,000-a-plate pre-election fundraising event for Welsh Labour.”
So we have The Labour Party in control in Westminster, Cardiff Bay, the Shire Hall (coalition), and a staunch Labour supporter gets handed the deal of his life with the old MoD site in Llangennech. Such serendipity!
But back to the questions.
The second question was answered by David Pickering when he said, “I know some people will find it strange that R & A is not a limited company but we’ve been advised to do it this way by our professional advisers.” So they paid someone to ‘advise’ them to enter into a multi-million pound deal using a non-existent company! Advice like that might explain Pickering’s business record, which we’ll look at in a minute.
Though in fairness, there does seem to have been a company, or rather, a Limited Liability Partnership, called R&A Properties, for it’s mentioned in the accounts of Hydro Industries Ltd for y/e 31/03/2016. (More on Hydro Industries anon.)
There was even a rather forlorn and untended website.
The problem here is that R&A Properties LLP does not exist, or it has certainly never been registered with Companies House. So from what parallel dimension did this creature slip through the Llangennech portal to help Hydro Industries?
A company called R & A Properties Cardiff Limited was eventually Incorporated 5 March 2019, with Pickering, Lovering, and Wayne Preece (of Hydro Industries) as directors. Why it took so long to legitimise R & A is a mystery that might be answered later in this posting. Though why ‘Cardiff’ should be in the name, seeing as the correspondence address given for the company is the Stradey Business Park in Llangennech, remains a mystery.
The deal in 2009 was justified because Pickering and his mates had a ‘blue chip’ company lined up to provide dozens or hundreds of top-notch jobs. The number given seemed to depend on who you spoke to and which way the wind was blowing.
Later in 2009 we learnt that Thales UK, part of the French defence giant, would be adapting the Bronco All Terrain Tracked Carrier built by a Singapore company and re-branding them ‘Warthogs’ for deployment with the British Army in Afghanistan.
As you’ve read, the 37-acre site was bought from the MoD by Carmarthenshire County Council and soon sold to the mysterious R & A Properties LLP.
The Land Registry turns up nothing for Stradey Business Park or Stradey Park Business Centre. You have to use the LR map, which produces two separate titles. The first, CYM462190, for ‘Land on the north side of Mwrwg Road, Llangennech’. The second, CYM458189, ‘Land on the south side of Mwrwg Road, Llangennech’.
There is a third title, mentioned on both of these documents, it’s CYM444641, but it seems to be unavailable at the Land Registry website.
Consulting Google Maps tells us that Heol Mwrwg bisects the site. Or check it out on the image below.
What we learn from these documents is that Robert Nigel Lovering owns both titles . . . or rather, they were bought with loans from Lloyds Bank Plc and The Secretary of State for Defence, with Carmarthenshire County Council chipping in later.
Moving on . . . early in 2009 the MoD sold the Llangennech site to Mark James, aka Carmarthenshire County Council, and he quickly sold it on to his mates, Dai Pickering and Robert Lovering.
And that answers the first question we left hanging earlier – why couldn’t R & A Properties have bought the site directly from the MoD? Answer: R & A couldn’t buy directly from the MoD because Lovering was getting a loan from the MoD to make the purchase. So it had to go through Carmarthenshire County Council.
For a very similar reason, the loan from the council in December 2012, was made not for the purchase of the site but to improve it.
You’ll have noticed that only Lovering’s name appears on the title documents. So why is that?
One answer might be Pickering’s financial status. For according to Paddy French at Rebecca Television Pickering had outstanding debts, both against companies he was involved with and also against him personally.
We read of one such debt: “In July 2009 Lloyds TSB obtained judgment against him for an unpaid bill of £10,232. The bank has taken him to court – and secured the debt against his Cardiff home.”
Rebecca Television estimates HMRC lost around £4 million in unpaid National Insurance, VAT and other taxes from the collapse of assorted Pickering companies.
Cneifiwr used the Rebecca Television article in an interesting update, Warthogs and a man with a van, in April 2014. It’s worth a read.
If we look at the companies David Pickering has been involved with, most are dissolved. The only ones still standing fall into three categories: 1/ Companies he left, 2/ Companies associated with the WRU, 3/ Companies Pickering has joined or formed in recent years. We’ll look at this final category in a minute.
It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Pickering is a failed businessman whose public profile and many contacts can still get his size 12s under boardroom tables.
COOL, CLEAR WATER
One hypothesis to explain this remarkable deal in Llangennech must be . . .
The MoD had agreed the Warthog deal with Thales in 2008, but was reluctant to invite Thales to do the work at Llangennech themselves because politicians and media might view that as too close a relationship between the British Ministry of Defence and what was after all a French company.
With the added advantage of Llangennech being well off the beaten track for the London redtops.
So I make no apologies for again using this scene from the Godfather, in which Willie Cicci gives evidence to a Congressional hearing. For just like the Corleone family the MoD needed ‘buffers’ between them and Thales.
It’s difficult to explain the convoluted sale in any other way.
Let’s focus now on Wayne Preece, who doesn’t seem to have been a director of any company before 2011 (unless it was R&A Properties LLP), when he joined an obscure Swansea outfit called Brightley Ltd. Where he was in partnership with Mark Batty, another with a glittering business career.
One of the companies with which Batty was involved – one of the few still afloat – is the Langland Bay Golf Club Ltd. One of Swansea’s better golf clubs in an up-market suburb. In fact, this part of the city figures more than once in this narrative.
For not only does Lovering live in Langland Bay, but Preece is also a resident. And among the previous directors of the Langland Bay Golf Club I see Huw Wyn Price. Price and his wife were the founding directors of Lancehawk Ltd in 1986. Lovering joined on 1 July 1999 and seems to have taken over, to the extent that he is now the only director.
I assume the company is doing well because I see 12 satisfied charges over the years, some with lenders I’ve never heard of. The accounts, unaudited and abridged, show Total Net Assets of £872,709.
‘Lancehawk’ has a certain martial ring to it. And so I wouldn’t be surprised if it has done work for the Ministry of Defence. The address given for Lancehawk used to be Lovering’s Langland Bay home, but now it’s relocated to – where else? – the Stradey Business Park.
Maybe someone else thought Lancehawk sounded a bit too ‘Up yours!’ which might explain the company trading as the rather blander European Telecom Solutions (ETS).
Though the ETS website doesn’t seem to be maintained very well. For example, the latest ‘News’ is for September 2018. Has nothing happened in the last year and a half? Why is there no mention of Covid-19 such as I find on every other website I visit these days? Don’t tell me ETS is another ‘buffer’!
Another Lovering company to add to the line-up is R & A Secure Services Ltd, formed 6 September 2012. That ‘R & A’ again. But it can’t be the ethereal company we seek because Lovering is the sole director. Its correspondence address was in central Swansea, but last September it moved. You have one guess!
Preece, as I’ve said, seems to have been involved in no company before 2011, with the exception of the rather odd Brightley, but then in 2012 and 2013 Preece joined a number of companies under the ‘Hydro’ banner, all based on the Stradey Business Park. In chronological order they were:
- Hydro Industries Marine Ltd Formed 29 November 2012 with Preece, Lovering and Philip Graeme Morgan as directors. The company seemed to do nothing and was dissolved via compulsory strike-off 14 July 2014.
- Hydro Industries Ltd Formed 2 September 2010 by Janine Morgan, who I assume is the wife of Philip Morgan, who joined her 1 April 2011. Next came Christopher Lewis 27 June 2011, and then Pickering, Preece and Lovering 2 January 2013. More recently we have seen a number of luminaries climb aboard. One of those new arrivals is Robert Brooks, who I’m told lives or lived just around the headland from Langland Bay in Caswell Bay. The Morgans left 6 August 2014.
- Hydro Strata Ltd (formerly Hydro Mining Ltd). Formed 11 March 2013 with Preece and Morgan as directors. Never more than a dormant company and it was dissolved via voluntary strike-off 25 April 2017.
- Hydro Utilities Ltd Formed 4 April 2013 with Morgan and Preece as directors. Morgan left 5 August 2014 and the company drifted towards voluntary strike-off 25 April 2017.
- Hydro Environmental Systems Ltd Wayne Preece was in on the ground floor with Morgan 3 May 2013. Morgan left 5 August 2014 and Pickering joined 19 June 2019. Accounts and confirmation statement are overdue.
- Hydro Marine & Salvage Ltd Preece and Morgan were there at the kick-off 7 October 2013 but Morgan left 5 August 2014. Dissolved by voluntary strike-off 25 April 2017.
- Hydro Oil & Gas Ltd Preece and Morgan from the start 7 October 2013, Morgan left 5 August 2014 and Preece called it a day with voluntary strike-off 25 April 2017.
What I find strange here is that the late Philip Morgan (he died suddenly in the early part of 2018) was an expert in his field, academically recognised. Morgan’s departure from the Hydro companies in August 2014 can be explained by him setting up KP2M Ltd in April 2014, which trades as Power & Water from its Llansamlet base.
Yet what knowledge of water did Preece bring to the party, with his background in Sony televisions and Thales?
And yet despite Preece’s apparent lack of knowledge of H2O Hydro Industries thrives. For as we read recently, the company has been awarded two lucrative contracts in the Middle East. One is in Saudi Arabia, and then there’s a £150m gig in Egypt.
Things are certainly looking up at Hydro Industries. Just compare the balance sheets below, covering a 4-year period. What you see represents quite a turnaround in just a few years. Did they find a Fairy Godmother?
For remember, this impressive improvement preceded the Middle East contracts!
Here, in pdf format is the latest distribution of shares, dated 2 September 2019. Note that although Robert Lovering ceased to be a director 1 July 2019 he retains his share holding.
Let’s now go back to the time before Preece joined Morgan at the Hydro companies.
THALES COME, THALES GO
After losing his managerial job with Sony in Bridgend – the plant finally closed in early March 2006 – Preece found himself doing fixed-term contracts for Thales UK. This gave him a foot in the door.
And tells me that by late 2008 Preece knew about the deal Thales had struck with the MoD to convert the 100+ Singapore-built Broncos into Warthogs. He now used whatever influence he had to get Thales to bring the work to Wales.
But he needed help.
If they didn’t already know each other then this is when the troika formed. Preece had the contacts with Thales (possibly also the MoD); I believe Lovering certainly had the MoD contacts (which is why the site was ‘sold’ to him); and then there was Dai Pickering, with his Labour Party contacts, and his rugby anecdotes guaranteeing him the best biscuits in Mark James’ private suite.
This explains why, in defence of the deal, the council said the sale had been agreed with persons “known to some officers”. For Mark James, then the county CEO, is a big rugby fan, and has used council money and sweetheart deals to benefit the local Scarlets.
And the generosity was reciprocated. For as Cneifiwr reports: “Shortly after the council approved the purchase and simultaneous resale of the site in February 2009, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council accepted an invitation from David Pickering to a rugby international.”
The Ministry of Defence was quite happy to sell the Llangennech site to the county council on the understanding that the council immediately sold it on to Preece, Lovering and Pickering. This may be the reason that the partnership back in 2009 had to be kept under wraps.
Despite all the hype, the brass bands and the kids waving flags to welcome Thales, the French outfit didn’t stay very long. So, why did Thales pull out? Well, here’s what I’ve been told . . .
Thales signed the lease agreement with Lovering, or Lovering and Pickering, or all three, before the site had actually been bought. Which of course made the agreement invalid. Possibly illegal.
This cock-up was perhaps attributable to the fact that the agreement had not been concluded by Thales’ Properties Department, as would have been normal, but by another arm under some Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) measure.
In an attempt to cover up le désastre I’m told that the final page of the lease agreement, with signatures and dates, ‘went missing’. When it ‘reappeared’ the time lords had worked their magic – for now it showed that the site had been purchased before the lease agreement was concluded between the mysterious R & A Properties and Thales.
But this was only a short-term measure. Once Thales held one of its regular checks on lease agreements, which would examine all documentation, the feline would be free of the encumbering sack.
And so Thales pulled out and took the work elsewhere. Search for ‘Llangennech’ or ‘Llanelli’ on the Thales website and nothing comes up. It’s as if this chapter never happened.
Which was a great pity. For while it lasted Thales provided good jobs and the workforce repaid the company by making big profits on each vehicle. A million pounds per vehicle has been quoted to me.
But Thales upped sticks and took the work away to less favourable locations, with inferior facilities, and more expensive premises. A ‘lean-to’ in Glasgow that could barely accommodate the vehicles was mentioned, as was a much more expensive venue in Sussex that lacked a decent crane.
So everyone lost out . . . except perhaps those who had screwed up.
ON TAWE BANKS
Because I am convinced that the British government stepped in when it became obvious that Dawnus was on the ropes and going down for the count.
I say that because a) Dawnus was operating in Sierra Leone and other ‘sensitive’ areas of West Africa where China is extending its influence; b) because expensive plant and machinery was shipped out to West Africa – out of reach of liquidators and creditors – before the collapse; c) because administrators reports have been delayed for another year; and d) because the two phoenix that rose from the Dawnus flames, DIG International Group Ltd and DIG Civil Engineering Ltd, moved in March from the old Dawnus depot in Clydach to . . . go on, have a guess!
In addition to the main depot and yard at the old Players Tinplate works site in Clydach, Dawnus also had a presence in the Ashmount Business Park in Llansamlet. Very close to where Hydro Industries began life in 2010 as Watertec Solutions Ltd. And where today we find Power & Water.
Are these coincidences?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I just know enough about how the world works to know that the UK government, or the MoD, or certain other agencies, don’t open offices abroad and put up a brass plate reading ‘Spies ‘R’ Us’. It’s done subtly, often using phoney companies as fronts.
Or recruiting genuine companies already operating in an area of interest. There might be an approach along the lines of, ‘As you’re out there, old boy, we were wondering . . . ‘. Nothing 007 about it, just keep your eyes and ears open and we’ll have the occasional chat.
Or it might just be supporting British companies in Africa and elsewhere in order to counter the influence of rivals. Today, in Africa, that means China.
Those who’ve seen the wonderful film, Our Man in Havana, will recall that Alec Guinness’s character, James Wormold, is a vacuum cleaner retailer recruited by MI6. It may have been a piss-take by writer Graham Greene, but he knew what he was writing about, he’d been recruited by MI6 himself. And posted to – of all places! – Sierra Leone.
The different trajectories of the Dawnus group and Hydro Industries, and the Thales debacle, all link through a number of factors.
First, we have various arms of the UK government treating Wales as a colony, and interfering in our political and economic life. Then there’s the lack of openness and accountability at local government level. The ‘pliability’ of those elected to Corruption Bay. The cupidity of certain BritNat businessmen. And finally, good old-fashioned Labour Party cronyism.
And I haven’t even mentioned the drones, but that can wait.
Do you still want to know what’s wrong with Wales?
♦ end ♦
P.S. The British military has always directed operations at Llangennech and that is still the case. Which is why I should have mentioned Rick Libbey, a 30-year-service man who is Chief Operating Officer for Hydro Industries.
It’s pretty clear who really calls the shots at Hydro.