High Street Group CEO is ex bankrupt, legal threats against Bond Review continue

Research by an anonymous Bond Review reader has brought to light the past of High Street Group owner Gary Forrest.

In October 2009 Gary Forrest was made bankrupt in Newcastle County Court, following a petition filed in December 2008.

Exactly what led to Forrest’s bankruptcy is not stated in the Gazette (and my attempts to obtain further details from the county court have been unsuccessful), but it’s probably important to note that this was a personal bankruptcy rather than one of his companies.

From 2003 to 2007 Forrest was a director a sub prime loans business, High Street Home Loans. The business was sold to American behemoth GMAC-RFC.

You’d think that after selling a sub prime loans business in 2007, the moment before the credit crunch hit, Forrest would have been sitting pretty. That’s a stroke of luck/genius which most people would live and dine out on for the rest of their lives. But his bankruptcy in 2009 suggests that wasn’t the case.

Undischarged bankrupts are not allowed to be company directors. Nonetheless, in 2010, Forrest was named in The Mirror as the “Chairman” of a company called Credit Issues. The Mirror noted that Forrest was not listed as a director but that his wife Hazel was the biggest shareholder.

Credit Issues took large upfront fees from desperate borrowers who were trying to write off their debt. According to the Mirror article, this didn’t go well.

We warned four months ago that Credit Issues was on thin ice.

A judge had closed the main loophole it used to write off debts.

But in an email sent to its sales agents – in “error” we were later told – it tried to portray this disastrous court ruling as a win and extract another £110 from clients.

Borrowers had already paid up to £450 each for Credit Issues to take on their cases.

And what did customers get? According to several agents we’ve spoken to, very little.

A winding up petition was launched against Credit Issues in 2010. It was finally dissolved in 2014.

Back to High Street Group. According to an HSG press release dated 2012, it was originally launched in 2008 as a spin-off from High Street Home Loans. Of perhaps more relevance is that High Street Commercial Finance Limited, the company that borrowed money from investors in HSG bonds, was incorporated in 2011.

Once Forrest’s bankruptcy was discharged, he was free to act as a company director again, and he was duly appointed as director of High Street Commercial Finance in May 2012.

So as a rough timeline:

2003-2007: Gary Forrest runs a successful sub-prime loans business (successful enough to be bought out by one of the American giants) before cashing in at the perfect moment, just before the credit crunch.

2008-2010: Gary Forrest’s wilderness years, comprising bankruptcy and a firm “chaired” by Forrest which took upfront fees from desperate indebtees, with a dubious track record of successfully getting their debts written off.

2011/12 onwards: The launch of High Street Group, which in its own words was “originally launched to provide Debt Management advice and Financial Mis-selling Claims to the Consumer”, although with a sideline in commercial property finance: “High Street Boutique Finance provides unique funding to the Buy to Let Investor, Property Developer and SME market place.”

That commercial finance side appears to have morphed into an unregulated property investment scheme issuing bonds to investors. The debt management and claims management side appears to have died away as the unregulated investment scheme grew in size; there is no mention of it on the HSG website.

To summarise the summary, Gary Forrest has gone from being an issuer of sub-prime loans in 2003-2007 to a borrower of sub-prime loans in 2018-2020 to finance his property scheme. Loans which start at at a rate of 12% per year and rise to 22% per year in year 7 and have to be advertised to the public by unregulated introducers cannot be described as anything but sub prime.

High Street hagiography

Whether HSG investors were made aware of Forrest’s 2009 bankruptcy is unclear. There is no mention of it in Forrest’s LinkedIn profile. Nor is it mentioned in a 2019 puff piece by the Northern Echo – though you’d think it would be worth a mention in Forrest’s rags-to-riches story.

He’s 50, left school at 16 – “GCSEs? Two, I think” – began working life on a job creation scheme helping lay footpaths at Jubilee Park in Spennymoor.

One highlight we did learn from the Echo’s piece is Forrest’s love of sports cars.

“They gave me a psychometric test and it literally went off the paper. They asked if I had the ambition to own a Porsche and I said that if I had a Porsche I’d want a Ferrari and if I had a Ferrari I’d want a Lamborghini.”

Other interesting points from the Northern Echo’s hagiography include:

  • From age 18 until the launch of High Street Home Loans in 2003, Forrest was a financial adviser / salesman, at first for Allied Dunbar (known affectionately in the industry as Allied Crowbar for its sales practices) and then independent
  • High Street Group was (in January 2019) “contemplating floating on the Stock Exchange” – almost two years on, there is no sign of any prospectuses, investment banks, or indeed up-to-date annual accounts – the bare minimum for a company to operate legally, let alone list on the LSE
  • Forrest juggles High Street Group with his family and running a non-league football club – leading the Northern Echo to describe him gushingly as “to work-life balance what Blondini was to the tightrope”
  • Forrest has a “brain disorder which means he’s unable to see pictures in his mind” and as a consequence cannot read books (other than biographies)

Legal campaign continues

High Street Group’s campaign of legal threats against this blog started in October 2019, when their lawyers sent me a letter taking issue with my 2018 review of their bonds and a follow up news article on the (overdue) release of their 2017 accounts.

High Street Group claimed via their lawyers that I’d “sought to question our client’s conduct in relation to financial investments” and “suggested that our client is not truthful and their actions are not be trusted”. Neither of these accusations appeared anywhere in either of my articles.

High Street Group did not send the letter to me but to WordPress, and demanded they remove not just the articles about themselves but Bond Review in its entirety. WordPress declined. Despite me going public with the legal threats and inviting HSG to put up or shut up, I heard nothing further for months.

In September 2020 I then received another letter on HSG’s behalf from an entirely different set of lawyers. This letter was, frankly, a soggy mess. It conflated what I’d said in my own article with third-party comments underneath the article, to the extent it was impossible to tell whose words they were complaining about at any particular point.

It also told total untruths, such as claiming that HSG had “filed all accounts in accordance with relevant legislation” – which as anyone can see by glancing at Companies House is completely false. (High Street Commercial Finance Limited and High Street Grp Limited remain a year and two months overdue with their 2018 accounts. On New Year’s Day, if nothing changes, they will achieve the rare feat of being overdue with two sets of annual accounts – 2018 and 2019. They would already have achieved it if Covid hadn’t resulted in all companies getting an extra three months.)

I pointed out to them that as they’d conflated my own comments with someone else’s, I wasn’t able to take any action in regard to either, and that apart from a minor and innocuous error, everything in my articles was backed up by evidence. I heard nothing more for two months.

In November I received a letter from Gary Forrest himself decrying my “constant inaccuracy” and inviting me to meet him and HSG management at the head office in Newcastle. I declined, and invited him again to point out any inaccuracies. He failed to point out any – hardly a surprise as if there had been any, HSG would have detailed them when they started their legal campaign a year ago.

This Sunday Forrest sent another email threatening me with the receipt of yet another pre-action letter on Monday 23rd. (Yes, Sunday – and this is a man who supposedly has the work-life balance of Blondini.) At time of writing no such letter has been received. Things got really bizarre when Forrest started threatening to expose me as being somebody I’m not.

We now have clear evidence that [XX] is Brev. The lawyers WILL be confirming this in writing and that they are confident in taking a case to court. You know as well as I do that a law firm will not make such a statement if the evidence did not exist.

The content of the letters will also include a pre prepared written statement from [XX] that needs to be sworn under oath that they are not Brev. In the event that this is not signed and sworn we will accept this as our confirmation that [XX] is Brev and immediately file the court papers.

In the event that [XX] does sign the statement under oath we will still issue the legal proceedings and add perjury to the claim.

Needless to say, XX (name removed to protect the innocent) isn’t me. But I would say that, wouldn’t I. Anyway, whether I’m XX or not, apparently I have to sign a statement to say I’m not XX, because otherwise HSG will sue me. If I do sign to say (truthfully) I am not [XX], HSG will double-sue me by adding a private criminal prosecution for perjury to the civil case.

The only way out of this weird and wonderful legal web that HSG has woven around me like a spider on cannabis would seem to be to invite HSG to see me in court again. Watch this space…

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