Northern Ireland

Mark Townley promises money back to boxing clubs

Mark Townley
Image caption NICVA alleges Mark Townley did not provide refunds as promised

The boss of a firm being wound up while owing thousands of pounds to community groups in Northern Ireland has insisted they will get their money back.

Mark Townley's Belfast-based-NTF is alleged to have received £4,800 deposits from as many as 15 community groups for minibuses which failed to materialise.

Mr Townley told the Sun: "I am living on benefits. I have no money.

"The suggestion that I've been trying to make money from people isn't true."

He added: "I borrowed £77,000, put it all into NTF since I founded it last year, tried my best and had many successes but in the end it didn't work.

"I'm taking full responsibility and everyone will get their money back."

Two weeks ago, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) warned community groups to be cautious about the minibus scheme.

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

Mr Townley was speaking after fresh concerns were raised about NTF, when it emerged two boxing clubs in Scotland had bought rings from the firm which never turned up.

He told the Sun: "The rings would have been delivered but unfortunately I had to shut down the organisation after NICVA warned people to stay away."

However, Mr Townley's comments have been rejected by the organiser of another boxing club in Wales, who ended up having to pay the money for a ring out of his own pocket.

Lee Stephens of Llanedeyrn and Pentwyn ABC in Cardiff told the BBC he first contacted NTF after reading a leaflet at a local youth group which mentioned boxing grants.

"Mr Townley said if we stuck in £1,650 he could secure the rest of the money from third-sector funding and government grants to bump the money up to buy the ring from a company in England," he said.

"When he was offering us the boxing rings, he kept talking about taking the kids for weekend trips up in Scotland, where they could 'get high on life, not on drugs', and go canoeing and things like that.

"I forwarded him the money and another club in Cardiff did as well, but it dragged on without the ring arriving, and the company in England was complaining of cheques bouncing as well.

"He sent me letters apologising and saying I would get his money back on such-and-such a date. That proved to be not true, then he sent me a cheque which didn't get through.

"What I had to do in the end was pay the money for the boxing ring out of my own pocket - it's disappointing really."

Evicted

NICVA has estimated that, based on debts it was aware of as reported by alleged creditors, 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.

Andrew Steen, director of property company The Belfast Office, has claimed Mr Townley owed them as much as £15,000 for non-payment of rent over the course of the last 12 months.

"He was telling us he was making a real difference and things were going really well but he was just having a little trouble with funding; obviously government funding was very tight," he said.

"I would be a keen sportsman myself and I have a lot of admiration for people who run boxing clubs and youth activities, and although it's a big loss for us, it is a lot worse for those organisations."

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.

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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