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Company behind Groombridge Place, near Tunbridge Wells, goes into liquidation

By Chris Britcher

The company behind popular tourist attraction Groombridge Place has gone into liquidation - owing thousands of pounds to creditors.

But despite finding itself in a financial quagmire, it continues to operate after another company, run by the same director as the firm being wound up, acquired its assets.

Groombridge Places Estates Ltd collapsed under debts of more than £352,000.

Groombridge Place continues to operate despite upheaval behind the scenes
Groombridge Place continues to operate despite upheaval behind the scenes

According to documents filed, the company had just £500 in the bank.

Among those owned money is HM Revenues and Customs which is due £179,112.

Speaking to KentOnline, Mark Newton of liquidators Menzies says it is "highly unlikely" those owed money will receive anything from the process.

He said: "Groombridge Place Estates Ltd ceased trading late last year, the lease or licence was terminated due to non-payment so another company has taken over the running of the attraction going forward.

"On May 16 it was placed into liquidation but the business and assets by that time were taken over by another company.

"It's nothing that's been hidden.

"It is highly unlikely the creditors will receive anything from the liquidation process but we have been in touch will all those we believe are owed money."

The attraction is a popular venue for families near Tunbridge Wells
The attraction is a popular venue for families near Tunbridge Wells

The new company behind the attraction is believed to be GPE Management Ltd.

Both it and the collapsed company list Eton-educated film producer Justin Bodle as sole director.

He has worked on a host of major TV dramas and helped export children's favourite Fraggle Rock around the world in the late 1980s while working for Henson Productions.

He purchased the Grade I-listed building and its extensive grounds in 2001.

The process of switching companies - known as 'phoenixing' - is often frowned upon but perfectly legal.

The government's Insolvency Service explains: "Phoenixing, or phoenixism, are terms used to describe the practice of carrying on the same business or trade successively through a series of companies where each becomes insolvent in turn.

The assets of the collapsed company are believed to have been transferred to another company
The assets of the collapsed company are believed to have been transferred to another company

"Each time this happens, the insolvent company’s business, but not its debts, is transferred to a new, similar ‘phoenix’ company.

"The insolvent company then ceases to trade and might enter into formal insolvency proceedings - liquidation, administration or administrative receivership - or be dissolved.

"The majority of UK companies that fail don’t do so because of any wrongdoing on the part of the directors, and companies can be dissolved or face financial difficulties for a variety of reasons apart from misconduct.

"Therefore, UK law allows owners, directors and employees of insolvent companies to set up new companies to carry on a similar business as long as the individuals involved aren’t personally bankrupt or disqualified from acting in the management of a limited company.

"However, when a company enters liquidation, insolvency law restricts who can reuse the company’s registered name and trading names."

The venue has a host of events lined up, all of which are still scheduled to take place.

It confirmed in January it was remaining closed for the winter season, but has subsequently reopened and is welcoming visitors and hosting events once more - including a classic car show this weekend.

The organisers this week confirming the event was still going ahead as planned.

Among others owed money in the collapse are Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, NPower, EDF and British Gas.

Mr Bodle is among the list of creditors after sinking more than £76,000 into the business.

A statement from the attraction said: "Groombridge Place Estates Ltd, the management company behind the visitor attraction last year, has gone into voluntary liquidation but the attraction will remain open with all events and weddings going ahead as scheduled including the Groombridge Place Classic Motor Show this weekend."

According to one creditor, it is believed Mr Bodle simply found the expense of running the attraction greater than expected and was not enjoying sufficient footfall to make ends meet.

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