Liverpool

Investors tell of 'nightmare' with Liverpool hotel company

Hotel Image copyright Signature Living
Image caption Signature Living has been developing luxury hotels across the UK, including in Liverpool, Cardiff and Belfast

Investors in a multi-million pound luxury hotel group said they have been through "a nightmare" trying to get money from the company.

They described months of delays and unanswered calls or emails to the Liverpool company, Signature Living.

The BBC has spoken to six investors, from the UK, Ireland, Singapore and Taiwan, who said they were owed money.

Company boss Lawrence Kenwright, who is considering running for mayor of Liverpool, said everyone would be paid.

"We are chasing them, begging for our money. I had many sleepless nights," said one of the investors, who all asked not to be named.

The company "is giving Liverpool and the UK a bad name," he said.

'Never had a bank account'

Three other investors told the BBC they had received money they were owed in recent weeks, after payments were delayed by months.

With several now demanding their investments be returned, Mr Kenwright said this would happen when the group's remaining hotels were sold or refinanced.

Signature Living made £5.9m in annual profit, according to the most recent set of financial accounts.

Image copyright Signature Living
Image caption Investors in Signature Living hotels were told to expect annual returns of about 8%

Mr Kenwright, who built his business up after being bankrupted in 2010, said he had made relatively little money from the company, although records show he shared in £610,000 of dividends in 2017.

"I never saw it, I don't know where it went," he said when asked about this money.

"The £610,000 you're talking about, I have never had a cheque. I have never had a bank account. I drive a five year-old car and wear an old watch," he said.

Investors in Signature bought individual rooms in luxury hotels being redeveloped by the company, with many paying hundreds of thousands of pounds and some investing their retirement savings.

The hotels included the Titanic-themed 30 James Street in Liverpool; Belfast's George Best Hotel, which has yet to open but it is said will be decorated with floor-to-ceiling portraits of the late footballer; and The Exchange Hotel in Cardiff, where rooms come with an en-suite hot tub.

These rooms were then leased back to Signature, which typically promised an annual return of about 8% and that it would buy the room back at a profit after a certain number of years.

'Being ignored'

"It started out fantastically," said one investor, who bought a room in The George Best Hotel. The company was offering higher returns than any bank.

Then his payments were delayed, he said.

"The first came a little bit late, the second one came a little bit later and the third took a lot of phone calls, emails and shouting before it came."

Image copyright Geograph / Albert Bridge
Image caption The opening date for the George Best Hotel in Belfast has yet to be confirmed

As the delays continued, staff at Signature "started getting more and more elusive. No-one would talk to me, everyone was in meetings and no one would return calls," said this investor.

He said he was finally paid the money owed in the past fortnight.

Another investor, whose family invested hundreds of thousands in two hotels in Merseyside, said she was still owed money after years of delayed payments.

"We have to email them and they say 'Yes, we will pay you today,' and then the money doesn't come and they stop responding," she said.

"We are being ignored."

A third investor said he had spent eight months trying to get money from the company with no result.

"This whole experience has been a nightmare and we just don't know when we will get this resolved," he said.

Image copyright Tony Armstrong
Image caption Signature Living recently announced the sale of the Titanic-themed 30 James Street hotel

In a letter to investors in March, Mr Kenwright said there had been delays in developing one hotel and "we have obviously run into a timing problem whereby several bedroom investors are requesting their money back".

In another letter, sent in April, Mr Kenwright told investors "all rental payments have been suspended and no further monthly or quarterly returns will be paid", pending the sale or refinancing of five hotels, in Liverpool, Belfast or Cardiff.

The BBC has spoken to two investors who have taken legal action against the company.

Image caption Extract from a letter sent to investors in April 2019

Mr Kenwright, who is well-known for his charitable work in Liverpool, including establishing homeless shelters, confirmed recent reports that he has considered running for mayor of the city.

He said he regretted the delays faced by his "amazing" investors and that investors in two of the group's hotels had now been paid in full.

Every other hotel investor would be paid what they were owed and bought out of their original investment by the end of the month, he said.

"I want them to get their money and be happy," Mr Kenwright said.

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