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Tour buses seized in legal bust-up

Revenue and Customs officials have seized a fleet of buses used to run tours around Belfast.

The High Court heard 13 vehicles were confiscated from Belfast City Sightseeing, whose partners are locked in a legal battle over the dissolution of their business.

A judge hearing the case has now been asked to make a formal declaration that the partnership is at an end.

A writ seeking that outcome was served by lawyers for Joe Lavelle, who operated a franchise issued by the English-based parent company. However, his partner Paul Johnston has resisted the action, claiming that instead of dissolving the business Mr Lavelle retired from it.

He has now given an undertaking not to operate any Belfast City Sightseeing buses until the case is settled.

A barrister for Mr Johnston alleged in court that the business was “destroyed” by the actions of Mr Lavelle and another partner.

Ronan Lavery claimed there was a conspiracy involving other backers, and the establishment of a rival business during the existing partnership.

He said: “For a period of approximately a year there were acts which constitute breach of contract.”

The court heard his client is alleged to have gone into the firm's premises last November and taken computers, documents and changed the locks.

Mr Lavery claimed the items were held for “safe keeping” due to issues of bad faith in the partnership to “run it into the ground”.

He added: “I do have to accept that the business as it is now is unlikely to operate, because the buses have been taken by HMRC.”

The judge, Mr Justice Deeny, questioned whether the case was not a “complete waste of time”.

He asked: “If there is anything remotely like what happened, according to Mr Lavelle, on the 30th November, is that not the clearest possible indication of a dissolution in the partnership?”

The court was previously told that the franchise has already been ended by parent firm City Sightseeing. It was also submitted that the operator's licence issued by the Department of Environment could be withdrawn.

John Coyle, for Mr Lavelle, told the court the seized buses may end up in another city.

The case was adjourned until next month.

Belfast Telegraph

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