The payroll company at the centre of a proposed takeover of Rochdale AFC owned 80% of an organisation which the Insolvency Service says could not demonstrate the “legitimacy” of £1.8 million in payments, it has been revealed.
In April 2019, a company called Morton House Business and Corporate Services Limited (“Morton House”), then led by Denise Courtnell, bought an 80% stake in Village Energy Solutions Limited.
Village Energy Solutions Limited was incorporated in February 2018 but, by December 2019, proceedings had commenced to wind up the company after a creditor petitioned the court to shut it down.
In April 2019, Morton House became the major shareholder and, on 4 July 2019, the petition was served by HM Revenue and Customs. Although Courtnell was never listed as a Village Energy Solutions Limited director, she was the only director and sole shareholder of Morton House.
Morton House divested from Village Energy Solutions six days after the petition was issued on 10 July 2019.
Enquiries by HMRC uncovered that the company was originally incorporated as providing real estate and management consultant services and in its first nine months of its existence had three different names – Rasdale Solutions Limited, Caffe Concerto Payroll Services Limited and Concerto Payroll Services Limited – before settling on Village Energy Solutions Limited.
In interviews with HMRC, Village Energy Solutions Limited director Donna Nada, from Ilford, Essex, informed the Official Receiver that the company traded from premises in North West London and provided payroll and HR services.
But, due to Nada’s failure to ensure that Village Energy Solutions Limited maintained or preserved adequate accounting records or provided any form of records to the liquidator, HMRC said it was not possible to verify the true nature of £2.3 million of income and whether this accounted for all the company’s sales and income.
HMRC added that this also meant it was not possible to determine the legitimacy of at least £1.8 million worth of payments out of the company’s bank accounts.
Donna Nada also alleged to investigators that some of this money was used to buy expensive watches for investment purposes. But HMRC said Nada could not explain where the watches were or supply satisfactory documentation.
When pressed for further information on Morton House’s involvement, a spokesperson for HMRC said: “I’m afraid that HMRC has a statutory duty of confidentiality, which means we don’t discuss identifiable individuals or businesses, so we will be unable to provide a comment on this occasion.”
In March 2020, Morton House Business and Corporate Services Limited changed its name to Morton House MGT and First Form Construction Limited and, under this present name, claims to have purchased a 42% stake in Rochdale AFC in July 2021.
This attempted takeover of the club made national news and became the subject of an English Football League (EFL) investigation, as it transpired Morton House’s private acquisition of shares had not conformed to the EFL’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test (OADT). The EFL said it had launched an investigation into “multiple individuals”, demonstrating the depth and complexity of the issue.
Despite it then telling the EFL in August that it planned to withdraw and divest from Rochdale AFC, Morton House lodged a High Court petition in January 2022 against the Dale Supporters’ Trust and other individuals.
The Trust subsequently launched a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to combat the legal action.
It was openly reported in the media that the Morton House takeover was led by an Andrew Curran and Darrell Rose, along with their intermediary Alexander Jarvis.
In October 2021, Curran was charged by the Football Association with an aggravated breach of rule E3 after being accused of calling members of the Rochdale AFC board of directors ‘Nancy boys’ and the people of Rochdale ‘small minded’. Curran was confirmed guilty by the FA in January 2022 and suspended from all football and football activity, which included a ground ban up to and including Wednesday, 14 March 2022. Curran was also ordered to complete a mandatory face-to-face education programme.
Neither Curran nor Rose are listed as current directors of Morton House, with only Courtnell and a Faical Safouane currently registered as active. Alexander Jarvis has also distanced himself from Morton House.
Jarvis told this writer: “I’m not actually involved in the takeover anymore, but I’m happy to tell you what I know from when I was involved.
“Morton House was invited into the club at the request of the management at the time. The first meeting was with [then chief executive] David Bottomley and other directors. They were very open to outside investment at that time.”
Faical Safouane, listed as majority shareholder in Morton House, was approached for comment, but no response was received.
In September last year, it was reported former Charlton Athletic chairman Matt Southall had expressed an interest in purchasing Morton House’s shareholding in Rochdale.
Jarvis said: “Matt Southall has a relationship with Morton House and they’ve approached him to work with them on a deal. I’m not sure when he initially got involved, but I believe he is now actively involved publicly, you can see that.”