Tuesday 26 July 2016

Moo Bar - a public information post

The beer supply chain is complicated. There are lots of links with beer going one way and hopefully money flowing back to brewers, eventually. What goes on behind the scenes is fairly much hidden from the drinker. If we get grumpy with a pub because they are well over-due paying an invoice we might stop supplying. Sometimes this is temporary and may even go completely unnoticed by the beer drinker. A few harsh words, or more often than not carefully worded emails are exchanged, owed money gets paid and the beer flows again. Everyone is happy. I would not normally publish information about which outlets are more trouble, it wouldn't be right, but there are times I feel like grumbling. Brewers do tend to talk to each other and there is an increase of sharing of information in this regard.

Sometimes it gets to the point that there is a company that is behaving so abysmally that it is only right to call them out for the sake of all the very good businesses that are above board and working hard to run successfully businesses legally and more importantly in a morally sound manner. Be it pubs, breweries, wholesalers or any other businesses in the whole of the beer and wider alcohol industry we should not have to fight rogues.

I want to share with the reader my all-time worst ever experience bad business practice. In 12 years of trying to eek out an honest living this has become the one defining event. I refer to Moo Bar, that small chain of venues in the Penrith and Carlisle area. The concept is the brain child of a Nigel Tarn, previously famous for a bogus sale of his previous business for £7 million. (the sale never actually happened and Turbo drinks went bankrupt) In an apparent shock event this week the landlord of Moo Bar Carlisle, the property owner, evicted the operators, Moo Bar limited (Company number 08447386).

There has been local support for Moo Bar. Clearly the operation has found a good following amongst enthusiasts in the city. Be it for a good range of beers or for providing a music venue I am uncertain. Never-the-less the support is impressive. However, the facility that has been provided is clearly not a viable business and has been funded by unscrupulous and unauthorised borrowing from many people, in particular many smaller breweries like Hardknott. I have information that would indicate sums of in excess of £50,000 to brewers and beer wholesalers alone. Moo Bar owes Hardknott in excess of £2000, and this is after we helped Nigel's cash-flow problems in the early days with a supply of £500 for lines dedicated to Hardknott (which was never honoured in any reliable way) - we know some other brewers have done similar.

Nigel Tarn - Business buffoon
or downright crook?
either way, don't trust this man.
Nigel was from the start erratic in his payment of invoices. Initially not the worst, but never paid them in any structured way. Amounts paid were inconsistent with invoiced values making reconciliation of accounts difficult. If I were charitable I could say this is because Nigel is an accounting buffoon. However, I do wonder if this was a deliberate and cynical attempt to be obtuse so as to try and con us from day one.

Fast forward to September 2015. Much of Moo Bar's account was grossly overdue. Many invoices were over 90 days from delivery date. We were starting to fight with Moo Bar to get payment for beers and repeatedly had the company on stop.

We also noticed that companies house records showed a lack of filing of accounts and other mandatory documents. They have never, to this day, filed accounts for an operational company despite clearly trading. We were getting extremely worried and had already had the tip-off from other brewers that Moo Bar was in trouble.

Nigel suggested that we delivered more beer COD. Now, we have a strict policy here at Hardknott; Being on stop for unpaid invoices means being on STOP. No, we will not accept cash-on-delivery until the outstanding invoices are paid down. Starting up the van to go all the way to Carlisle to find the cash wasn't there was an option I was not prepared to consider1. Several other brewers had reported that COD delivery agreements had been made only to find no cash ready when the delivery was made.

We hit an impasse. We were not going to deliver unless Nigel paid his outstanding bills. Although we were not explicit he probably realised we were not only at the point of not delivering until he paid down his account, we had also already made the decision to reduce his account facility to zero.

Please remember, this is all before the floods in December 2015.

Nigel made some excuse about a serious illness, and being robbed by a member of staff. If I were honest I had already long ago placed Nigel in the chancer, bluffer and query rogue bin since my early dealings with him. I was fairly sure these were nothing more than excuses and based at best on distortions of the truth. We asked for a crime number as presumably it had been reported to the police2.

Nothing more came of it. No monies paid, no further communications from Moo Bar, despite us sending repeated email requests for payment. Of course in the middle of all of this there was the floods, giving Nigel a perfect sob-story to cover the fact that his business was already in serious trouble.

After what I thought was a reasonable amount of time I sent a final email pre-warning of a letter before action.3 This was then fairly swiftly followed up with the promised letter. By this time all of Moo Bar account with us was well over 90 days aged. We had paid all the beer duty, staffing costs, VAT, cost of malt and hops etc to our suppliers Further emails were sent indicating that the next course of action would be application for a County Court Judgement. No reply, no money. So, I applied for a CCJ, which we were awarded. I sent further emails stating that the bailiffs would start knocking next.

At this point there was an attempt to make amends. A second villain of the piece made an entrance. For the time being I shall refrain from further details, other than to say we realised that this character already had form and there are very possibly innocent people (or at least unwilling accomplices) who I am not willing to drag into this sorry story. An attempt to do a deal ensued, but sadly the deal fell far too short for us to be happy and we decided to walk away.

In the interim I discovered that many breweries and distributors were owed significant amounts. I started to investigate further and found a huge amount out about Nigel and some of his business dealings. In the end I stumbled upon the employee who was alleged to have robbed Nigel. This was a revelation, and certainly gave a signifiant alternative view on the dark dealings that had been going on.

The chef involved had been accused of stealing, it seems because he was paying suppliers cash on delivery out of the till to make sure stock could be bought. The chef was arrested on the day of his granddaughter's christening. We have checked the information we have in our emails and there is a sneaking coincidence in the dates of the start of the investigation and the date we requested a crime number. We are afraid we might have precipitated an innocent man's arrest as a result of us demanding proof of this "crime". He was interviewed and released, but too late to attend the important family event. To my knowledge no further action has been taken.

I also have information about signifiant PAYE irregularities in the Moo Bar empire.

The two ex-employees I have spoken to have indicated that there was never any "serious illness" - the information I have suggests that Nigel suffered from a bit of acid reflux. An uncomfortable but not serious condition. I know, I suffer and have to take "proton pump inhibitors"3. It is quite normal for the quack to recommend a camera is sent into the oesophagus and stomach just to make sure it isn't cancer. Decent people don't go around using this as an excuse to avoid paying debts.

I have information that would indicate that Nigel pretended to be in hospital when in fact he was on holiday living it up leaving staff to fight with the problem of an increasing number of suppliers who were refusing to deliver due to unpaid bills.

This morning I spoke to a spokesperson for Walton Goodland, the estate agency who is dealing with the lease. The outstanding bill for rent on the property amounts to in excess of £20,000. Moreover, the reason rents have been returned by the landlord is because the rents have been paid in the name of Baa Carlisle LTD (10087794) - where as the lease is in the name of Moo Bar limited. This is important in many ways. Firstly if the landlord accepted the payments from the wrong legal entity that incorrect legal entity would then achieve a right to operate from that property, whist the previous entity would still owe outstanding monies.

The debt with the landlord goes back in excess of 9 months and well before the floods.

Nigel is trying to set up new companies and allow the old Moo Bar Limited to become struck-off as a result of the company appearing to Companies House to be inactive. This is easy to achieve if all the directors resign. Once a company is struck off there is no longer a legal entity that can be chased for debts. It is a tidy trick used by unscrupulous rogue traders like Nigel and his friends. However it can be fought if there is proof that there is still action against the company, which there is. We intend to continue to fight this, as I know several other people are also doing.

Taking the action to communicate this story, which really only looks at a fraction of the deceit and bad-practice at play, is not something I am doing lightly. Calling out a "customer" might make prospective accounts worry that this is my normal MO potentially giving Hardknott a bad name. I hope they will understand that Moo Bar is a competitor to above board routes to market. I would hope that legal and ethical businesses will see ultimately my action is in the name of improving the lot for any decent business in the alcohol industry.

There are a lot of very reasonable and above-board pubs and bars doing things in an honest and reasonable way. It simply is not fair that this outfit is taking good business away from good places.

Yes, I'll not deny I want my pound of flesh, I can't have my money, and I do want to hurt Nigel, seriously. Baseball bats are probably not a good idea, and anyway, Nigel is using the keyboard as his weapon of choice, so why should I not do the same?

Nigel is a good bullshitter. He has various people believing the rubbish he is pumping out. However, he has robbed me of £2000. He has robbed numerous breweries of various amounts of money. He is damaging the brewing industry and my biggest fear is that he will "restructure", form a new entity and successfully trade from a new premises. I want people to know exactly the sort of person he is.


1It seems to me if you have the cash to pay for the beer you want now then you should be able to pay down a previous invoice. Once an account is in the state whereby the aged debt is shelved and future deliveries are all paid COD then a serious cash-flow problem has started. It is only a matter of time before that business goes south.

2it is worth noting that much communication with Nigel was via emails.  We have various dates in that email thread that helps us piece together and be sure about certain things.

3No, I'm not really sure what that means either.