RBS Accuser Embroiled In £3m Silverstone Row
A former adviser to Vince Cable is embroiled in a legal row over a company's collapse, Sky News learns.
Silverstone is the home of the British Formula One grand prix
By Mark Kleinman, City Editor
The entrepreneur who led a crusade against Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) over its treatment of struggling small businesses has been accused of forcing a supplier to Britain's premier motor racing circuit into administration.
Sky News can reveal that Lawrence Tomlinson, who served as the former business secretary Vince Cable's entrepreneur-in-residence during the last parliament, is named extensively in legal papers filed this month at the High Court.
The claim has been lodged by Manolete Partners, a litigation funding group, which has taken on a case originally brought by Silverstone Hospitality, which provided catering services to the Northamptonshire venue.
Silverstone Hospitality's contract was terminated last December by the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), the owner of Silverstone Circuits and on whose board Mr Tomlinson sat at the time.
In documents seen by Sky News, Manolete alleges that Mr Tomlinson threatened the management team of Silverstone Hospitality during a meeting on 7 October last year.
Mr Tomlinson is alleged to have told Steven Saunders, the company's founder and a prominent chef, he would "find something, some dirt, somewhere, on you or your business. I'll put my forensics on it, and you'll end up with nothing."
A spokeswoman for Mr Tomlinson disputed the accuracy of the quote.
The filing of the case comes nearly 18 months since Mr Tomlinson, a successful businessman and former amateur racing driver, produced a hard-hitting report on RBS and its controversial Global Restructuring Group arm, which has since been disbanded.
The entrepreneur accused the taxpayer-backed bank of wilfully forcing small businesses into bankruptcy in order to profit from their demise, a claim that RBS has always denied.
Silverstone Hospitality provided catering services to the venue
His report sparked huge embarrassment at RBS when the lender admitted that evidence given to MPs in the wake of it had not been accurate.
The Silverstone court documents shed fresh light on the financial turmoil engulfing the BRDC subsidiary, alleging that it failed to pay invoices on time and that it acted aggressively to unlawfully terminate the hospitality contract.
A series of restructuring proposals tabled by Mr Saunders to improve the performance of the profit-sharing deal, which included the annual British Formula One Grand Prix, were not acted upon, the claimant alleges.
During a meeting on 3 December last year, Mr Tomlinson is alleged to have said to Mr Saunders: "You are terminated. Good luck," according to the court papers.
Mr Saunders and his colleagues were then told to leave the premises by that afternoon, the papers add.
Mr Tomlinson's spokesman also denied that he had given that instruction.
Manolete's claim said that Mr Tomlinson's appointment last August as acting joint chief executive of Silverstone Circuits was never "formalised with Companies House, which holds no record of Mr Tomlinson's status".
The litigation funding group said it was seeking more than £3m to compensate it for the value of the unexpired period of the contract and losses on stock and other unreturned items.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr Tomlinson said that he had not seen the court papers because the legal case was being handled by the current board of the BRDC.
She said she was unable to respond to the comments attributed to Mr Tomlinson in the court documents although both she and the BRDC said in January that an earlier account of the October meeting was "inaccurate".
"The decision to terminate the catering contract with Silverstone Hospitality Ltd was made by the Board of the British Racing Drivers’ Club," she said.
"Lawrence was representing the BRDC Board in his role as acting joint CEO of Silverstone Circuits Ltd at the time and was the person nominated to deliver the Board’s decision to SHL."
She added that the decision to terminate the contract had been the "collective decision" of the BRDC, which was unavailable for comment on Monday.
"Whilst we have not seen the content, we are aware there are many references to Lawrence made in the Court papers.
"Lawrence undertook his SCL and the BRDC Board without remuneration, working tirelessly on a philanthropic basis to help the BRDC turn the business around for future longevity of the club and circuit."
The spokeswoman also claimed that Silverstone Hospitality had intimated "in early negotiations on contract termination that the media would be used for negative publicity, given Lawrence’s profile as a business leader, in an attempt to lever bargaining power".
In response, Steven Cooklin, Manolete's founder and chief executive, said: "Mr Tomlinson now appears to be laying the blame for the demise of Silverstone Hospitality at the BRDC's door.
"No matter who took the decision, we have every faith that the British justice system will bring some semblance of retribution for the hard-working and loyal staff, creditors and shareholders of the company."