Northern Ireland

Teresa Townsley given nine year company ban by DETI

Teresa Townsley
Image caption Teresa Townsley said it was "hard to understand the degree of criticism against me personally"

The woman at the centre of a failed Science and Technology centre has been banned from being a company director for nine years.

The project, which collapsed costing the taxpayer £2.2m, was severely criticised in a report by a Stormont spending watchdog,

Following an inquiry, the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) imposed the ban on Teresa Townsley.

She said she had reluctantly agreed to the disqualification.

The 55-year-old chartered accountant from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, was a board member of the Bio Science and Technology Institute (BTI).

It was set up by the government in 1998 to offer financial support and provide biotechnology incubator facilities through the development of a specialist building at Belfast City Hospital.

In response to the ban, Mrs Townsley told BBC Online: "I took legal advice and it became clear that the defence of any proceedings would be long and expensive, I have poor health, no longer work and have limited resources, unlike DETI.

"In the light of my health I was prepared to agree to a disqualification to end this debacle."

In October 2001, the company bought a building in the Sydenham Business Park, called Harbourgate Belfast for £5m, but was unable to service its bank loan funding.

The Ulster Bank took possession of the Harbourgate building in November 2005.

The department accepted a nine year disqualification undertaking from Ms Townsley based on unfit conduct which solely for the purposes of the disqualification procedure was not disputed.

These included:

- failing to disclose to the board of the company her interest in the payment of a share of a £100,000 finders fee for the Harbourgate building in breach of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland's code of ethics

breaching her duty as a charitable trustee of the company in that she had a material interest in fees paid by the company to her own firm MTF Chartered Accountants, during the period 26 November 2001 to 30 May 2002, and which totalled £45,761.78

. cheques totalling £354,494.66 for the purchase of equipment were issued to the suppliers after the claims were submitted and cleared the bank in November 2001. A cheque written to a solicitor in the sum of £1.7m in respect of the purchase of the Harbourgate building did not clear the bank. The inspectors believed these cheques totalling £2.1m were written for the purpose of evidencing to the department that payment had been made, when this was not the case, in order to facilitate the drawdown of funds

. causing and allowing the company to submit duplicate claims in excess of £0.5m contrary to the specific conditions as outlined in the department's letter of offer dated 21 December 1999.

Mrs Townsend said: "I accept that there are instances where I may not have complied with the letter of the law in a small number of respects but there is no question that any claims for payments were inappropriate. I have always acted in the best interests of BTI.

"It is hard to understand the degree of criticism against me personally.

"My mental health has suffered greatly as a result of the investigation into my business affairs and the investigation of BTI and these proceedings. My health deteriorated significantly from 2002 leading to a complete breakdown in January 2006.

"I am still in fragile mental health and this latest onslaught by DETI has worsened my condition."

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