He once appeared to be one of the country’s most successful businessmen – a tycoon who controlled hundreds of high street shops and sat on the board of Sheffield United.
But Stephen Hinchliffe’s most recent appearance in court, charged with wrongly claiming more than £4,000 worth of benefits, is the latest in a long line of public controversies for the one-time millionaire.
Hinchliffe’s Facia retail empire owned the likes of fashion chain Red or Dead and Freeman Hardy Willis shoe shops before it collapsed in 1996.
The 65-year-old, now of Old Hall Mews, Greenhill, was jailed for five years in 2001, which was reduced to four on appeal, after being convicted of bribing a bank manager to fund his retail empire.
The Old Bailey heard he had paid £800,000 to John Doherty, who was also jailed, in return for receiving unsecured loans worth millions of pounds – money used to prop up his ‘ramshackle empire’ of largely-failing businesses.
Before his fall, Hinchliffe held a 15 per cent stake in Sheffield United football club, sitting on the board of directors during the early 1990s until Facia’s collapse.
Facia collapsed into receivership in 1996, with the collapse of the company resulting in around 8,000 people losing their jobs.
Investigations eventually revealed Hinchliffe had obtained loans from the United Mazrahi Bank amounting to more than £13 million to finance his Facia retail business expansion by bribing bank officials to side-step the bank’s loan procedures.
As he sentenced him, Judge Graham Boal said Hinchliffe had been ‘the author of his own misfortune’. Hinchliffe, who dropped out of Oxford University to train as an accountant, got into business through the grocery trade.
In the 1980s, he bought loss-making Wades department stores and made the chain profitable, then sold the firm and bought Sheffield engineering firm James Wilkes, increasing profits eleven-fold in five years.
He started Facia by taking out a £3m loan to buy leather goods chain Salisbury’s in 1994 – then expanded rapidly. The Facia group, based in Beauchief Hall, made a series of acquisitions in the early and mid-1990s, taking over companies such as Sock Shop, Torq jewellers and Contessa.
The Serious Fraud Office was called in after Facia collapsed in June 1996, resulting in Hinchliffe’s eventual convictions. In 2003, Hinchliffe was jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to taking £1.75m from the group when he was its executive chairman.
He had pleaded guilty of defrauding the company and originally received a suspended sentence of 15 months – which the Serious Fraud Office appealed on the grounds it was too lenient.
When he came out of jail in 2005, he moved into High Peak Hall in the Peak District village of Hope, described by estate agents as ‘one of the finest houses in the whole of north Derbyshire’.
The £1.5m mansion had been purchased by his wife while Hinchliffe was in jail.
But in 2012, Hinchliffe was stripped of his assets after becoming involved in another legal battle – this time involving former business associates. It was reported he was visited by bailiffs after failing to pay more than £2m awarded to brothers Shaun and Alex Smith following a High Court ruling.
Hinchliffe and his wife Marjorie were escorted out of High Peak Hall, with the property put up for sale with the consent of the court.
A judge had ruled in 2010 that Hinchliffe and his wife ‘conspired with intent’ to unlawfully ‘wrest control’ of umbrella firm Hoyland Fox from the brothers and their parents in 2008.
The Smiths were awarded damages of £1.6m in December 2011.
Hinchliffe claimed at the time that the case had been a ‘miscarriage of justice’.
He said: “When you go to court, you do not get justice, you get a verdict.”
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