Gavin Lee Woodhouse, the picture darkens

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

Yes, I know I’ve promised Weep for Wales 13, and I’m working on it (there’s just so much to process), but fresh information on Gavin Lee Woodhouse justifies another post on the wonder boy of the Afan Valley Adventure Resort. (The AVAR website is ‘currently under maintenance’.)

WHERE WE LEFT OFF . . .

At the end of last month I published Gavin Lee Woodhouse, the ‘Wolf of Wharf Street’ – you were warned!, with this piece following earlier postings of mine going back to April 2017, and more recent interest from the Guardian and ITV News.

There have been a number of follow-ups by both media outlets, with these being the most recent I can find: Serious Fraud Office assesses Gavin Woodhouse businesses in Thursday’s Guardian; with the same headline used by ITV News.

It is understood by all that Woodhouse operates by selling. or more usually leasing, rooms at hotels he owns. Had he been able to proceed with the Afan Valley Adventure Resort then he would have been selling/leasing more hotel rooms there, plus lodges or cabins. In fact, they were already being advertised, even though nothing’s been built. So have any been sold?

FISHGUARD

In my earlier piece I also said that I was unable to find the title document for the Fishguard Bay Hotel on the Land Registry website. I kept getting a ‘too many titles’ message which I attributed to rooms having been sold.

A recent comment to this blog assured me that the title document could be found, and eventually – by a counter-intuitive method I won’t bore you with by explaining – I did find it.

Fishguard Bay Hotel. Image courtesy of County Echo. Click to enlarge.

It tells us that the Fishguard Bay Hotel (actually in Goodwick) was bought 13 July 2017 for £966,720 by Wyncliffe House Hotel Ltd (formerly Fishguard Bay Hotel Ltd) a company formed 1 May 2016. We see that the company was formed over a year before Woodhouse actually bought the hotel, so presumably he was in negotiations. Or even on site prior to purchase?

If you scroll down on the title document you’ll see that leases for 45 rooms were sold in 2017. All of them 125-year leases, and irrespective of the date of sale all leases started on New Year’s Day.

Now obviously I couldn’t buy the title documents for all the rooms, so I limited myself to five. Which was enough to pique my curiosity. For the titles I bought, the prices range from £45,000 to £70,000.

All bar one were sold between 13 July 2017 and 28 September 2017; with the outrider sold 13 March 2018. Which could suggest impressive sales techniques, or even buyers already lined up.

Of the five, just one hints that it belongs to a genuine, small-time, private investor. This was the title document for an SSAS, which stands for Small Self-administered (pension) Scheme. The other four – certainly, three – looked iffy.

Judge for yourselves with the panel below made up of the relevant details from four of the five room title documents supplied by the Land Registry.

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The top two, one in Slovakia and the other in Poland, are impossible to check. They could be genuine buyers or they could be names plucked out of thin air, or from some database.

The two on the bottom supply UK addresses, but even so, something’s not right. The one on the left gives a Dubai address and ’24 Cheapside, Wakefield’. The one on the right gives a Welsh address, but also uses the Wakefield address. So what do we find at 24 Cheapside?

It’s a commercial building, with a number of tenants, among them the ‘Williams & Co’ mentioned in the document for the Dubai buyer. This is a firm of solicitors and everything seems to be kosher. My one concern being that the website does not give a Companies House number.

And then I stumbled on Williams & Co (Cleckheaton) Ltd, a company formed in January 2018. It’s registered at the address given on the Williams & Co website, with two directors and a further two shareholders.

Also found at 24 Cheapside, Wakefield is Immigration Advice Service (IAS), whose website, some might think, tries to give the impression that IAS is a UK government department, but it is in fact a private company.

Though, curiously, under ‘Nature of business (SIC)’, for IAS Companies House has: “69109 – Activities of patent and copyright agents; other legal activities not elsewhere classified”. What the the hell do patents and copyright have to do with immigration advice?

Immigration Advice Service was also registered as a charity, number 1033192. In fact, the company may be a ‘phoenix’ that grew out the defunct charity.

The cynic in me thinks that a company like IAS would be a great source of names and addresses for potential overseas buyers for hotel room leases . . . or even just names and addresses.

Others may argue that I’m clutching at straws here, but Woodhouse once had a company called MBI Immigration Services Ltd. So at the very least, he would appear to have shown interest in this line of business.

Let us head north now, to the Caer Rhun hotel in the Conwy valley.

CAER RHUN

Let’s go straight to the title document, where we see that this hotel was bought for £1,500,000 with a loan from North West Asset Finance Ltd, which has a registered address in Todmorden, Lancashire, hard up to the frontier. I have stood there myself more than once and gazed into Yorkshire.

North West Asset Finance is hardly a rival to the big boys, for it’s a one-man band and the solitary director is Robert Ashley Hall. All the shares are owned by Shays Assets Ltd, another Hall company that takes its name from what I assume to be his home address, Shays Farm, near Skipton.

Caer Rhun. Image courtesy of Hitched. Click to enlarge.

Both companies were formed 11 February 2014, around the time Woodhouse embarked on his hotel-buying spree. While the accounts suggest that the only real asset may be the money loaned to Gavin Woodhouse to buy Caer Rhun.

Which made me wonder whether Hall and Woodhouse are known to each other. Sure enough, they are in business together. In a company called Gramra Ltd, formed by Hall 2 January 2018, which Woodhouse joined 13 June 2018.

When we look at who owns the shares in Gramra we find that at least half are owned by Woodhouse through the company Woodhouse Family Ltd, which has the controlling interest.

Woodhouse Family Ltd, where we find Gavin Woodhouse as sole director since his wife resigned last month when the shit hit the fan. For this company is alleged to have been the ultimate depository of some investors’ money, rather than the companies to which the money was ostensibly paid.

Shareholders in Gramra Ltd. Click to enlarge.

Returning to Caer Rhun, we find that 125-year leases have been sold on 57 rooms. Again, I downloaded the title documents for just five, and in price these range from £75,000 to £170,000. All were sold between July 2016 and August 2017.

The buyers we find in Bristol, Birmingham, and rather more exotic locations. Here are the three beyond these shores. Even if we accept that the one on the left refers to a UK couple living in Spain, that still leaves buyers in Italy and Taiwan.

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To have so many overseas buyers is not in itself cause for alarm, but I can’t believe that someone in Taiwan or Dubai or Slovakia woke up one bright morning and said to himself or herself, ‘I know! – I’ll buy a hotel room in Wales!’ 

We all know about Arab sheikhs and Russian oligarchs paying millions for London mansions, so is a room from which you can watch the Rosslare ferry the fag-end of the market?

Joking aside, maybe the real questions are:

  1. Do these overseas buyers really exist?
  2. If they do, did they really pay any money or are their names being used?
  3. And if they did pay money, where did that money come from?
  4. And where did it go?

BELMONT HOTEL

As far as I can make out, Gavin Lee Woodhouse, through his various companies, owns six hotels in Wales. It’s reasonable to assume that the same business model of selling the leases on individual rooms is found in all of them. That is certainly the case at the Fourcroft Hotel in Tenby (aka Carmarthen Bay Hotel) and the Belmont Hotel in Llandudno.

I want to focus on the Belmont.

From the title document, we see that it was bought in 2015 by MBI Heritage Hotel Ltd (now Belmont Hotel Ltd) for £381,250. Though in the latest accounts it’s valued at £2.62m and shows a profit of £1.55m. Though as the Guardian told us, the increased valuations on other hotels are even more dramatic.

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At the Belmont, leases for 26 rooms were sold, all of them in an impressively short time in 2015, so another gold star for the sales team. I haven’t bought any title documents for these sales because I’ve already splashed out £36 on Woodhouse, and I’m sure the picture will be little different to what we found at Fishguard and Caer Rhun.

But what appears to be different at the Belmont is, first, that Woodhouse does not own the Belmont (I think it’s owned by Mostyn Estates), he only leases it. Which means he’s selling leases in a property he himself leases.

Click to enlarge.

Which raises the question of whether Mostyn Estates Ltd is aware of this interesting development. Or whether it’s even legal.

What also struck me about the Belmont was that there are three charges outstanding. The first, from 2015, is for Mysing Properties Ltd, which changed its name to Mysing Capital Ltd before two further loans in December 2018.

But why would Woodhouse need to take out loans on the Belmont, a property he’s leasing, and for which he’s more than covered his outlay with the sale of the rooms?

Whatever the answer, Mysing is based in Wakefield, on Woodhouse’s patch; where we earlier saw hotel room buyers linked to the Wakefield solicitors, Williams & Co. The latest unaudited abridged accounts for Mysing paint a very healthy picture, with net current assets of £16,501,830 and total net assets of £1,475,344. The difference accounted for by creditors owing £14,977,000. Creditors, presumably, like Gavin Lee Woodhouse.

But from where does Mysing Capital – a company only formed in July 2014 – get that kind of money? ‘Unaudited abridged accounts’ tell us very little. And it’s perfectly legal.

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There’s no question in my mind that the directors of Mysing Capital are known to Woodhouse, and that these ‘loans’ may not be the kind of loans you or I are familiar with.

UPDATE 15.07.2019: Mysing Capital links with a string of Mysing companies, many of which are in the care home business (as of course was Woodhouse). But these other companies seem to have been formed after Mysing Capital.

Which still leaves the question of where the original Mysing Capital money came from.

In addition to the loans and mortgages taken out with Mysing towards the end of last year Woodhouse took out other loans around the same time, these with the equally mysterious Fiduciam Nominees Ltd. Why do I call this lot ‘mysterious’?

Well, after reading this at the foot of their website, how would you describe them?

“The content of this website has not been approved by an authorised person within the meaning of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Fiduciam does not enter into regulated credit agreements within the meaning of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001.”

Fiduciam is a lender of last resort. If your bank turns you down you go to a company like Fiduciam. Which, as the Companies House entry tells us is in the business of ‘financial intermediation’.

This means that it finds borrowers for people who have money to lend. We can see who the borrowers are, but who are the lenders? Well, if we go to the latest available accounts, we read at the bottom of page 10:

Click to enlarge

“The directors (of Fiduciam) deem BWCI Pension Trustees to be the ultimate controlling party”. ‘Deem’? Aren’t they sure? Anyway, here’s the website for BWCI Pension Trustees Ltd.

Now don’t get me wrong, what Fiduciam and BWCI do may be perfectly legal (in an offshore kind of way), but – as with Mysing – where does the money originally come from that they loan to people like Woodhouse?

In the case of Fiduciam we’re asked to believe it’s pension funds, but in practice there’ll be few questions asked if a drugs baron, oligarch or member of a third world kleptocracy washes up in the Channel Islands looking for a good investment for his ‘pension pot’.

What we can say for certain is that in December last year, the nearest vehicles Woodhouse has to parent companies, Northern Powerhouse Developments Ltd and Giant Hospitality Ltd got themselves heavily indebted to a company that finds desperate borrowers for offshore lenders whose money could come from anywhere.

Why did he need the money? Was it for the Afan Valley venture? If so, then Woodhouse is now well and truly up that narrow waterway known colloquially as Shit, with his business model exposed in the mass media, creditors beating on his door, and the Afan Valley Adventure Resort a fast receding dream.

Though the local council leader in Neath Port Talbot is wailing about the loss as though it’s somebody else’s fault! But then, that’s ‘Welsh’ Labour for you – always somebody else’s fault.

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My response was summed up in a tweet I put out on Saturday to accompany the article: “Listen, Rob, if you and your mates down Corruption Bay had done the basic checks into Gavin Woodhouse and you would have laughed him away and wouldn’t be ‘disappointed’ now. You’ve got no one to blame but your council and .”

EPILOGUE

When I first encountered Gavin Lee Woodhouse I thought he was a bit of a lad who’d over-reached himself. (As opposed to an out-and-out bastard like Paul Williams who ‘succeeded’ him at Plas Glynllifon.) Now I worry that there may be darker elements to his business ventures.

The foreign buyers for so many of his hotel rooms certainly start the alarm bells a-trembling. As does the lack of information about his financial backers.

But then, as I’ve said before, this is business, this is finance – English style. Where the City of London sits at the centre of a web of offshore tax havens and money-laundering centres that welcome anybody’s money. Once it’s in the system, with the origin disguised, that money can be used anywhere.

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are the oldest, and nearest of these centres.

But this does not excuse the ‘Welsh Government’, which obviously did no due diligence into Woodhouse before giving him £500,000 for Caer Rhun and then welcoming him with open arms when he ventured to the Afan valley.

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Unless of course they were over-ruled from London. (It happens regularly.) Which would make them complaisant rather than gullible. Is that an improvement?

So it’s good-bye Gavin Lee Woodhouse, and hello, . . ?

For you can guarantee that the next Gavin Lee Woodhouse is already here spinning his lies and courting the politicians. And he’s not alone.

In Return Journey Dylan Thomas goes home to a blitzed Swansea searching for the places and people he knew. Eventually he reaches Cwmdonkin Park, where the park keeper responds to his questions about a boy from long ago with, ‘I’ve known him by the thousands’.

I’m beginning to feel like that parkie, due to all the crooks infesting our country. They keep coming because we have thick-as-shit politicians more concerned with shagging and back-stabbing than with making Wales honest, healthy and prosperous.

And a media unworthy of the name.

♦ end ♦