Being an Italian by birth, I naturally love my old country. But some aspects of life over there leave something to be desired, its legal system in particular.
A friend of mine, born here but of Italian parents, was left a small house in the Puglia region, on the southern tip of the country. The house had long been in the family.
But a few years ago, the land registry mysteriously altered the legal title to the property from my mate’s name to that of another man, who is thought to be connected to local “people who matter”.
The resulting legal battle to have the property put back on my friend’s name has taken many years, with endless lawyers’ letters, adjourned hearings and no outcome in sight.
When my mate last gave me an update about his saga, I commiserated – and remarked casually that had the same story taken place in England it would have taken a matter of months to sort the matter out legally.
Except, of course, the legal system isn’t always a bowl of peaches over here either, especially if you use every legal device to avoid having your financial advice examined by the Financial Ombudsman.
A few months ago I wrote about Graham Davy, a retired airline pilot advised by Brian Pickering at Heather Moor Edgecomb in 2001 to leave his final salary scheme in 2001, after being told that predicted levels of growth of 7 per cent, 9 per cent and 11 per cent for his proposed personal pension were “terribly modest”.
As I explained in November: “In reality, [Mr Davy] estimates it would cost in excess of £600,000 to give him back the pension lost as a result of the advice he received.”
Back in 2011, when he became aware of his potential to claim, Graham Davy contacted the Financial Ombudsman Service, which in turn wrote to HME.
Instead of responding to the claim, Brian Pickering’s wife Dolly applied to Companies House for HME to be struck off the register. HME was placed in default in 2012. Davy, who may have been in line for the FOS maximum award of £100,000, had his case passed on to the FSCS instead. His potential compensation was reduced to £50,000.
When I wrote about this appalling story, I mentioned that Mr Davy has now had his case reassigned back to him by the FSCS and is trying to get HME restored to the register at Companies House so that he can pursue a case against the company.
A hearing concerning HME is due to take place at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre on Monday 17 February. Graham Davy has contacted the FOS and informed them of what is happening. The FOS has replied that it may be able to reopen the case with HME once the company is restored to the register but only if the assets it owned can be restored to the company.
What is known is that apart from a substantial sum from the sale of HME’s client bank to Sanlam, with some £100m under advice, HME’s other assets included the company office, listed on the balance sheet prior to the dissolution of the company.
Graham Davy has written to the presiding judge asking him to reinstate these assets as well as restoring the company to the register. As a retired person, without the funds available for a long legal battle, he is representing himself and, in his words, “simply asking the judge to do what we think is right.”
When I spoke to the FOS last year, they told me cases like this, where a company dissolves itself rather than having to face an adjudication, are very rare. One might imagine they would have an interest taking the case on themselves to establish a legal precedent and prevent others from doing the same thing, but clearly they prefer a cash-strapped retired couple to do their dirty work for them.
Except that matters are not so straightforward. Brian Pickering has replied through his compliance adviser, saying that as he ceased to be a director of HME in June 2010 he was no longer answerable to any correspondence sent to him. All letters addressed to him by Mr Davy and the FOS should be disregarded.
Mrs Pickering was the sole director from this date forward and as no letters were addressed to her personally she had no knowledge of any complaint. Therefore she denies that she did not follow the correct procedure when winding up the company.
At this stage it is not clear what the court will make of this line of argument.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org