A woman at the centre of a doomed bid to establish a ground-breaking medical research facility in Northern Ireland has been disqualified from acting as a director, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The nine-year boardroom ban handed to Teresa Townsley follows a high-level investigation into her role in the failed Bioscience and Technology Institute.
The project was launched with high-level Government backing but collapsed without delivering on any of its goals at a cost to the taxpayer of £2.2m.
It was later branded one of the starkest examples of incompetence and mismanagement ever seen in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Townsley, one of four original board members, has accepted a voluntary director’s disqualification of nine years, which took effect from yesterday.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mrs Townsley insisted she had been “unfairly singled out”.
“It is hard to understand the degree of criticism against me personally, particularly given the experience of the entire board, the level of supervision of the BTI project by senior civil servants, their close involvement and the pre-funding approach to BTI clearly admitted by them,” she said.
Earlier this year, Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee delivered a damning verdict on the BTI fiasco, concluding that it “would be difficult to overstate just how badly” it was handled.
BTI was established in 1998 as a not-for-profit company to provide biotechnology incubator facilities at Belfast City Hospital, receiving £2.2m in public funding.
It bought a second building, Harbourgate, in east Belfast, but this was unfit for purpose.
The building was never used, did not generate any income and was repossessed by the banks.
According to the report, BTI paid over the odds for Harbourgate. Mrs Townsley shared a £100,000 ‘finder’s fee’ relating to the building, with £25,000 paid into an offshore bank account in her family’s name.
She said: “It became clear that the defence of any proceedings would be long and expensive. I have poor health, no longer work and have limited resources, unlike DETI. In the light of my health I was prepared to agree to a disqualification to end this debacle.”
According to Department of Enterprise guidelines, proceedings are brought against directors of failed companies who have “abused the privilege of limited liability status through negligence, incompetence or lack of commercial probity”. A disqualification prevents an individual being named as a director or even acting as a director of a limited company.