An MP has demanded that high-profile liquidator Louise Brittain must "never be appointed as liquidator again" because her "ineptitude" led to the ruin of a warehousing business in his constituency in a false case brought by Brittain and the taxman.
Bob Neill, Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, used an adjournment debate in the House of Commons to accuse Brittain and HMRC of "connivance".
He said they deliberately shut out his constituents Rick Hone and Pat Owen, directors of Abbey Forwarding, from an appeal against incorrect allegations of alcohol smuggling that led to the destruction of their business.
He claimed that Brittain had social relationships with some of the HMRC officers involved in the case, which "raises serious eyebrows".
Brittain denies that she had any social relationships with any HMRC officers in that case.
He also said she had shown "intimidatory behaviour" by calling the former directors' friends and family, sometimes on ex-directory numbers, demanding to know if they were owed money.
Brittain now denies that she had shown any "intimidatory behaviour", nor, she says, did she make any such telephone calls.
And Neill claimed in parliament that after the bungled liquidation, for which she and HMRC face litigation by the firm's former directors (although at the current time no litigation has apparently been brought), Brittain was "no longer practising independently without supervision".
Brittain has strongly denied this and claims that she remains able to practice both independently and without restriction.
"Thirty years' work of my constituents has been destroyed, their workers have been put out of their livelihoods, and to this day HMRC has sought happily and successfully to obstruct their obtaining a new licence to operate a fresh business to rebuild their lives," Neill told MPs.
"That is a disgraceful vendetta against them."
Abbey Forwarding liquidation
Brittain was considered a leading figure in her profession. She has handled the bankruptcy proceedings of disgraced politicians including Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton among other well publicised cases.
While working at accountancy firm Baker Tilly, Brittain was appointed by HMRC as liquidator of Abbey Forwarding at an emergency "ex-parte" hearing that the firm's directors were excluded from. Ex-parte is where only one party attends for reasons of urgency or because of a risk that notice to the other party would prejudice the administration of justice.
HMRC investigators accused Abbey Forwarding of smuggling alcohol to avoid VAT and excise duty in 301 deliveries - a grossly inflated figure. The true figure turned out to be three and in each case Abbey Forwarding had an explanation.
Yet HMRC and Brittain pressed ahead with the liquidation.
Brittain had signed a Statement of Truth to the court backing her claim of 301 instances of smuggling, which Neill said was a result of her being "seriously misinformed" by HMRC officials.
Later in court she admitted that although she might not have known it was wrong when she first submitted her evidence, by the time of the trial she was aware of the actual figure.
"Even more extraordinary, it became apparent in subsequent hearings that the liquidator, Mrs Brittain, had been aware of this throughout the 12-day trial in which she gave evidence on oath and at no time sought to correct that misleading information that had originally been given," Neill said.
"Despite the fact that she had signed a statement with a certification of truth on it. She was rightly thoroughly criticised by the judge as a consequence of that."
Brittain had said in court that she failed to correct the statement at the time of the trial because she was "nervous and confused".
'War of attrition'
Neill said the "extraordinary conduct" of Britain and the "cynical conduct" of HMRC was "in a pursuit of attrition".
It was, he said, "a litigious war of attrition against the directors, funded in effect by the taxpayer because HMRC gave the liquidator indemnity for the legal costs (which Brittain denies she received in this case) and indemnity against any damages that might be awarded against her should the directors ultimately have been successful against her".
HMRC sought to distance itself by blaming the liquidator solely, said Neill, but this assertion was "betrayed by the facts".
"In fact, all the evidence the liquidator relied upon, including the false allegation of 301 interceptions, came from witness statements provided by officers of HMRC," he said.
This is denied as wholly inaccurate by Brittain, who says that there was a voluminous amount of evidence relied upon that was entirely independent of HMRC.
"Officers of HMRC and their representatives attended every single court hearing. They were in regular contact by correspondence with the liquidator throughout and emails that have come into the possession of my clients indicate a social relationship between some of those officers and the liquidator as well, which some of us raise serious eyebrows about in a professional context."
The judge threw out the case against Abbey Forwarding because it "fell apart at the seams".
The former Abbey Forwarding directors were mounting a ruination claim against Brittain and HMRC in a bid to recoup what they lost because of the disastrous claim against them. They have had only 50% of their lost assets returned to them.
According to Brittain, no such ruination claim has yet been brought.
Abbey Forwarding has since been rebranded as Purland House based in Woolwich, London.
Brittain had been the subject of an investigation by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) over the case, something her former employer Deloitte had previously confirmed.
James Igoe, head of media relations at Deloitte, said in August: "Although no complaint was ever made against her, the institute has a responsibility to carry out an examination when matters arise and so initiated its own process."
ICAEW refused to confirm or deny whether Brittain was or is under any investigation relating to the Abbey Forwarding cases.
"Our disciplinary byelaws preclude us from commenting on whether any matter may or may not be the subject of consideration by our professional conduct department," said a spokesperson. "Where such consideration results in disciplinary action being taken, then a public announcement will be made.
"Although we cannot comment on any individual matters, those same byelaws state that a member shall be liable to disciplinary action if he commits any act or default likely to bring discredit on himself, the institute of the profession of accountancy."
Brittain has subsequently taken a role at accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy. A source with knowledge of the appointment told IBTimes UK that Brittain was working part-time and could not carry out work unsupervised because she was under investigation by the ICAEW.
IBTimes UK also put these claims to Wilkins Kennedy but a spokesperson dismissed them as "totally inaccurate".
Although Louise Brittain was originally unavailable for comment on the allegations made, she has now issued a series of strong denials. She has also confirmed to IBTimes UK that she currently works full time, has always worked full time, and is not (nor has she ever been) under supervision in her specialist field.
(This article was updated on August 14th, 2014)