Greene King sues the style-bar company's four partners perso

Laurel pulls plug on VBM by The PMA Team A provisional liquidator has been appointed to run style-bar company Vodka Bar Manage-ment (VBM). The move...

Laurel pulls plug on VBM by The PMA Team A provisional liquidator has been appointed to run style-bar company Vodka Bar Manage-ment (VBM). The move follows an application by Laurel Pub Company, which claims it is owed £641,000 in unpaid rent. Laurel has already repossessed the seven bars it ran with VBM as a joint venture, including Bed in London's Smithfield and Sex in the City, Chiswell Street, London. Laurel's application for the appointment of a liquidator follows the discovery in December that £1.3m had allegedly been moved by VBM from a joint-venture account. The maximum cash movement allowed was £5,000. Chief executive Ian Payne described VBM as a "very untrustworthy operator". He praised the company's flair but added: "They failed to have any of the requisite [business] controls. According to their solicitor they have virtually no assets." A number of other creditors are owed money, including Sutton Contracts which is £269,000 out-of-pocket after work last autumn to expand Babushka in Chelsea's Kings Road and open Sex in the City in Chiswell Street. Greene King is suing VBM's directors personally for £614,000 in damages. The claim results from Vodka Bar Management's decision to renege on an agreement to take on a 20-year lease at the Lord Palmerston in Chelsea's King's Road. Greene King is claiming for damage done to the pub and for loss of earnings when the company was forced to let the pub for a substantially-reduced rent after VBM abandoned the site. It is claimed that VBM stripped out Greene King's fixtures and fittings, leaving the pub as a shell. Pub Partners managing director David Elliott said: "We are pursuing them with vigour. Our action is against the directors ­ we have personal guarantees from them. We are confident our claim is bona fide and we will see them in court." The seven-strong style-bar partnership with Laurel was seen as highly profitable. But Babushka bars in Nottingham and Glasgow were losing money ­ as was a site in Hampstead. Graham Sutton, of Sutton Contracts, holds Laurel responsible for the £269,000 his company is owed. He said: "We saw VBM as a filter for Laurel. Karen Forrester met me on two occasions to give me instructions. Everyone has been left in a bit of a muddle after Laurel pulled the rug. I wouldn't work for Laurel again ­ they work in mysterious ways." VBM director Gary Hibberd accused Laurel of reneging on an agreement to allow VBM to exit the joint venture but continue running four sites. "We spent one-and-a-half years working for nothing," he said. He insists the "missing" £1.3m is still "within the balances" of the accounts frozen by Laurel at the end of last year. "None of us has taken any money out of that bank account," he said. Hibberd claims that Laurel took its New Year's Eve takings of £98,000 when it repossessed the seven bars on 2 January. He also claims that Laurel owes them £18,000 for its Christmas Party. So far as the Greene King allegations are concerned, he maintained that the pubco increased its rent from £23,000 a year to £90,000 at the Lord Palmerston. He also claimed that Greene King agreed in writing to £40,000 in compensation for their departure. As for the state of the Lord Palmerston he said: "There were no contents at the pub ­ it was derelict." Hibberd insisted that his other company, Style in the City, which runs 10 sites, still had the support of landlords such as Punch and Unique. l City round-up ­ p12

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