Trevor Hemmings: the flat-cap billionaire battling RBS

Trevor Hemmings © Rex Features
Trevor Hemmings is rarely seen without his hat

When leisure tycoon Trevor Hemmings lost a large chunk of money in the 2008 banking bailout, he joined the shareholders’ fight for compensation. A decade later, he’s still going. Jane Lewis reports.

The Isle of Man’s bookies have learned to greet Grand National day with some trepidation. The last time a runner owned by resident tycoon Trevor Hemmings won in 2015, “Joe Jennings bookies in Ramsey ran out of money because so many people backed the horse”, reports IOM Today. Racehorses are the chief passion of this “flat-cap wearing… straight-talking” former bricklayer who made a fortune in the leisure industry – and at 83, he might have expected to spend more time concentrating on them in his quest for a record fourth National winner.

Instead, Hemmings is up to his stirrups in a complicated and occasionally poisonous legal action, embroiling big banks, the Kuwaiti and Singaporean sovereign wealth funds and a controversial Irish businessman. At the heart of it all, says the Mail Online, is Royal Bank of Scotland.

Clawing back cash

Having reportedly lost £700m in the 2008 financial crash, “a chunk of it through the bailed out bank”, Hemmings and his investment vehicle Manx Capital Partners were at the forefront of the fight to claw back cash. Like some 9,000 other shareholders who joined the RBS Shareholders Action Group, he felt he’d been “duped” into stumping up for a £12bn fundraising months before RBS collapsed.

The saga seemed to have a happy ending in June 2017 when the bank – seeking to avoid a showcase trial involving the disgraced Fred Goodwin – settled the group’s £200m claim. But as the months went by and the cheques didn’t arrive, claimants began asking questions about the organisation and its Irish co-founder, Gerard Walsh. It turned out that Walsh had a chequered past.

Described as a “fraudster” by the Jersey Royal Court after a stint as an investment adviser to the Nolan transport family (he denies all wrongdoing), he had earlier been ruled to be “guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation” by an Irish court for “posing as a Lamborghini dealer”. And although he’d formally ceased to be a director of the action group following his bankruptcy in 2011, it was claimed he remained “instrumental” to its running.

Manx waged a legal battle to wrest control and payments are now in progress. But having shone a light on the murky world of shareholder action groups, Hemmings has now started another fight, says The Sunday Times. He has launched a High Court action accusing a raft of big institutions – from sovereign wealth funds and Lloyds Bank to BAE Systems’ pension fund – of trying to “unjustly enrich” themselves by “leaving the litigation group without settling their share of the costs”.

Making a fortune from fun

A source in the defendants’ camp has declared the claim “ridiculous”. But no one should underestimate Hemmings, says The Guardian. The son of a munitions worker, who left his secondary modern in Leyland, Lancashire, aged 15, he has “made a career playing the unassuming, underestimated underdog”.

After training as a brickie, he made his first fortune in the housing business, becoming “a favoured contractor” and “surrogate son” of holiday-camp owner Fred Pontin. “He’s earthy. You can see the builder in him at times,” noted one business rival in 2007.

Hemmings is a wily dealer who “bought Pontins and sold it for a huge profit to Scottish & Newcastle”, says The Sunday Times. Over the years, he’s cleaned up in everything from casinos and pubs to holiday villages. He owned great swathes of Blackpool, including the famous tower, before selling them to the local council, and still owns Preston North End football club. Today he owns a fleet of vintage Rolls-Royces, but is still “a pie and pint man”. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he is closing his career as a champion of small investors. As he says of himself: “I have competed every day of my life. I started out with nothing.”