N. Ireland Politics

Belfast mini bus scheme wound up

The NI Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) said it has been contacted by 15 community groups over a minibus funding scheme.

Belfast based company, NTF UK , ran by Mark Townley notified stakeholders that it ceased trading 5 August 2010.

NICVA said that vehicle manufacturers have no knowledge of any orders placed on behalf of the NTF scheme.

NICVA want to hear from any organisations who have handed money over to Mr Townley.

Last week NICVA warned community groups to be cautious about the scheme.

They alleged that NTF had contacted by a number of organisations and offered a new minibus if a deposit of £4,800 was paid within days.

Representatives from NICVA said they visited Mr Townley and were not happy with the responses they received.

They said that Mr Townley agreed to refund the organisations who had paid deposits on vehicles but electronic cash transfers failed to take place and/or cheques bounced.

NICVA alleges that none of organisations they are aware of has received their promised refund.

Alleged non-payment

Following their meeting with Mr Townley, NICVA issued a warning to the community groups and amateur sports clubs not to hand over money to NTF or Mr Townley in advance of receiving mini buses through the scheme.

NICVA said they also became aware of a number of other businesses and charities who were owed large amounts of money by NTF and uncovered a pattern of unfulfilled promises to meet financial commitments.

NICVA said organisations from across the UK contacted them to disclose that they had paid NTF thousands of pounds either as part of the minibus scheme or a similar boxing ring initiative that required as much as £1,650 up front.

NICVA has now received reports from 15 community organisations and amateur sports clubs that are owed money by NTF.

NICVA also estimated that, based on debts it was aware of as reported by alleged debtors, that the company owes at least close to £80,000 to not-for-profit organisations and suppliers.

Prior to the letter notifying stakeholders of the winding-up of the company NTF was evicted from offices in Belfast's Gasworks due to non-payment of bills.

This eviction happened days after the NTF website had been taken down, allegedly over non-payment of services.

NTF is in the process of trying to appoint insolvency lawyers. It will also be a duty of those lawyers when appointed to report on any instances of suspected fraud by directors or employees of NTF.

A PSNI spokesperson said police were working to establish if any offence had taken place.

Any organisations who have experience with NTF and Mark Townley and would like advice or support can contact NICVA on 028 9087 7777 and speak to Neil Irwin or email neil.irwin@nicva.org.

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