Television company duped banks for loans worth £280m, say administrators

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A collapsed broadcaster that worked on the Euro 2020 football tournament and Glastonbury duped banks into lending it £280m for assets that did not exist, administrators have estimated.

Arena Television, which provided outside broadcast trucks to clients including the BBC, ITV and Sky, folded in November after a serial number it provided for a piece of equipment was queried and found to be fake.

The company’s bosses, Richard Yeowart and Robert Hopkinson, disappeared soon after and have yet to be located.

The scale of the suspected fraud has now been revealed in a new report from administrators at Kroll that have taken control of Arena and are seeking to recover funds for creditors.

They said Arena had borrowed about £282m from 55 lenders supposedly to buy equipment.

However, a review of the kit held by the company found it “does not hold the vast majority of assets purportedly acquired”.

The administrators said the only funds they had located was £2,761 in petty cash at Arena’s offices and no “significant” sums were expected to be recovered from its bank accounts.

Broadcasting trucks, helicopters, planes, camera equipment, vehicles, furniture and office equipment owned by the firm are now being sold off to raise funds.

Lenders owed money by Arena include Virgin Money UK, formerly known as CYBG, as well as NatWest, Close Brothers and Shawbrook.  

The administrators said they were also investigating why the business was closed so abruptly, the disappearance of the directors, the discovery of vast debts that were not disclosed in accounts and alleged “misinformation” provided to lenders and other parties.

Arena was founded by Mr Yeowart in 1988 to provide outside broadcasting trucks and helicopters to cover sporting events.

But on November 10 the firm’s employees, some of whom were on their way to broadcasting jobs, were abruptly told the business had ceased trading and that they should return equipment to the head office in Redhill, Surrey.

The announcement came after an investigator working for one of Arena’s lenders attempted to verify the serial number of a piece of equipment the company claimed to own but was told it did not exist.

“The directors appear to have taken the decision to cease trading shortly thereafter, resulting in the aforementioned email being sent,” the administrators said.  

Neither Mr Yeowart or Mr Hopkinson have been located since then.

The company was granted £800,000 in taxpayer loans during the coronavirus crisis and staff who were furloughed were reportedly told to come in to work regardless in a breach of the rules.

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