Belfast Telegraph

Court could call time on Botanic Inns pub chain over unpaid £60,000 debt

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's best known pub group is facing a winding-up order over unpaid rent owed on its former headquarters.

Botanic Inns, which operates 14 landmark pubs in and around Belfast and employs nearly 600 people, owes £60,000 to the landlord of its old offices in south Belfast, according to court papers.

John and Helen Miskelly, owners of the Ormeau Road office building, have filed a winding-up petition against Botanic Inns over the outstanding debt after it did not pay a statutory demand within 21 days.

The company operates 'The Bot' on Malone Road, one of the best-known pubs in Belfast's student area.

Botanic Inns refused to comment in detail but a spokesman said its 14 outlets were open and trading. It's understood the company is hopeful that it will be able to overcome its problems.

The petition, which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph, was filed in court on April 19 and a hearing has been listed for May 30.

It states: "The company is indebted to the petitioner in the sum of £60,615 being the amount due by the company to the petitioner."

The statutory demand was issued on March 27, the petition reads, but Botanic Inns "failed to pay or satisfy the sum... or to make any offer".

"The petitioner therefore believes that the company is insolvent and unable to pay its debts," it states, concluding "in the circumstances it is just and equitable that the company should be wound up".

Glyn Roberts, NI Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive, said his organisation had worked with Botanic Inns on the Backin' Belfast campaign to encourage people to return to shopping and socialising in Belfast city centre after recent loyalist protests over the Union flag.

He said: "I have a very high regard for managing director Stephen Magorrian and his team and I know they have gone through a lot of difficulties."

A company facing a winding-up order could ultimately be put into liquidation by the court, or its bank could appoint administrators to take over the company and run it to achieve the best results for creditors. This could ultimately mean the sale of the company or its assets.

But before a winding-up order is heard, a company could enter into a voluntary arrangement to pay its debts, or it could apply for an injunction to prevent the petition from being heard.

John Gordon, an insolvency specialist at Napier & Sons Solicitors in Belfast, said the law required winding-up petitions to be advertised before the petition is heard in court.

"That advertising can be detrimental to a business because it can lead banks to freeze the accounts of the company," he said.

Botanic Inns is yet to file its most recent accounts. But the last-published results for the year ending May 2010 reveal turnover of £20.9m and a pre-tax loss of £0.9m.

It's understood staff at the company headquarters left the Ormeau Road offices last Friday and it is now operating from offices above its Horatio Todd's pub in east Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph