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Man still fighting for life savings after Bolitho School donation

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: March 06, 2014

  • Bob Smith at his Newmill home - he is still trying to find out where his £100,000 went. Picture Phil Monkton CIOSP.

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A MAN who helped bail out Penzance's Bolitho School five years ago with his life savings says he is still fighting to recover £100,000.

Dozens of people stepped in to help when the beleaguered institution set up a loan scheme and called for £500,000 to ensure its survival in 2009.

Most of those people are finally seeing the return of their investment this week, but child psychologist Bob Smith is still battling for answers after being told his money won't be paid back.

He was one of a number of people, mostly parents, who responded to the appeal in 2009 to save the private school after a review by bank HBOS led to its overdraft being suspended.

The Friends of Bolitho loan scheme campaign raised the funds required quickly and was praised by the Sunday Times.

But the private school continued to encounter problems and on December 23, 2009, the school went into administration. It was acquired by international education business GEMS in late January 2010.

It was then that Mr Smith says he was told that when he handed over his money he was somehow missed out of the official loan scheme and was not covered by GEMS.

Mr Smith said: "When GEMS took over in January 2010 they said they would honour the £500,000 loaned to the scheme but refused to honour mine because I was not in the scheme and they had not known about it.

"I went in for a meeting and said, 'here is my certificate' and they said, 'well, that's slightly different to the ones we have seen'.

"It differed in the most miniscule detail. Mine was secured not by Bolitho School Foundation but by iBolitho."

iBolitho was a limited company set up by then chairman of the board of governors James Clarke. The company has since been dissolved after it went into administration in 2009-10. Mr Clarke left the school in 2009.

As a result of this difference in the certificate, Mr Smith, a candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner role in recent elections, has been told his £100,000 cannot be returned, despite it being used to help shore up the beleaguered school's accounts.

He approached the police but was told no crime had been committed. In 2012 Mr Smith launched a civil action at Truro County Court but later dropped it. Since then Mr Smith has been gathering information about what he says were a variety of loan schemes at the school.

His claims are backed up by the man who issued the share certificates for the legitimate loan scheme in 2009, chartered surveyor Steve Litherland, from St Ives.

He said: "The Friends of Bolitho School Ltd was a limited liability company. Its sole obligation was to raise money. On acquisition GEMS agreed to honour the loan note scheme.

"They've paid interest. They have advised me that all investors will receive the return of their funds this week and I know that some already have.

"On our [Friends of Bolitho] loan certificates it says, 'will be secured by way of second charge on school property'.

"Bob Smith's says it is secured as a second charge on the iBolitho properties. He assumed it was the same as everybody else's.

"What has happened to Bob is completely unfair."

A spokesman for GEMS Bolitho said: "These matters relate to debts incurred before GEMS Education took over the running of the Bolitho School in January 2010.

"When GEMS Education took over, we promised to honour the terms of the loans made to the school by the Friends of Bolitho School (FoBS), which is what we have done. These are being repaid this week.

"Other financial matters involving loans by individuals prior to GEMS Education taking over the school were not part of the undertaking made by GEMS Education. We therefore cannot comment on any financial matters with which we are not involved."

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