Fugitive climbed off sinking ship as TV channel backed by Boris went bust
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Our investigation reveals Hampstead businessman Edmond Fenton set up a TV company - whose supporters included Mayor of London Boris Johnson - after he fled South Africa wanted over 348 charges of tax fraud.
It was a media venture that ended in enraged arts critics staging a mass walk-out and liquidators being called in over £250,000 unpaid debts.
This was the fate of a doomed TV production company set up in London by Hampstead entrepreneur Edmond Fenton less than a month after he had been charged with 348 counts of tax fraud in South Africa.
The 71-year-old fled Cape Town on the eve of his trial in June 2007 and today, in the second part of our exclusive investigation, the Ham&High can reveal what Mr Fenton did on his return to London.
The entrepreneur and former dentist founded media start-up company TV London Ltd, a unique TV channel which made in-flight videos promoting the capital shown by British Airways, London black cabs and hotels.
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Supporters of the venture included Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who presented one of the company’s promotional videos that ran on continuous loop in some of London’s best four and five star hotels in 2009.
TV star and arts journalist Roger Foss came on board as a freelance theatre critic for the burgeoning company, which was based onboard HMS President on the River Thames, in 2009.
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Former actor Mr Foss, who co-starred in the popular 1960s children’s TV series Sexton Blake, also suggested other renowned critics who might get involved.
“We went along and met Edmond Fenton,” said Mr Foss. “It seemed like a new enterprise that had a lot going for it.”
The critics were signed up to write for What’s On In Theatre, a website run by TV London Ltd.
But within weeks Mr Foss became suspicious of promises being made by Mr Fenton on behalf of the company about payment and day-to-day operations.
He describes the situation as a classic case of “it will all be sorted out tomorrow, but tomorrow never came”.
He and other freelancers working on the website were worried by its poor quality and made increasingly heated complaints to bosses at TV London Ltd.
Matters reached a head when four freelancers demanded their names be removed from the website and quit over back pay and the organisation’s lack of professionalism.
As reported in The Stage newspaper at the time, the four - former Time Out London theatre editor Jane Edwards, leading theatre critic Mark Shenton, magazine editor Robert Shore and Mr Foss – even threatened to raise the issue with the Critics Circle.
“It was a combination of things that made us feel we didn’t want to be associated with something which was going down the plughole,” said Mr Foss.
The arts journalist was owed £2,000 in unpaid invoices and sued through the courts for payment in August 2009. Shoreditch and Clerkenwell County Court upheld his claim and bailiff’s warrants were issued.
But by January 2010 TV London Ltd had been forced into liquidation as other creditors chased approximately £250,000 of debts.
Mr Foss, 71, who lives in Manchester, never received payment.
“It wasn’t simply a question of money,” said Mr Foss. “It was a question of getting off the sinking ship. I have had a long career in both showbusiness and arts journalism and I have never come across a situation that was so farcical and so alarming.”
Other staff who worked for TV London Ltd say wages went unpaid in the final months of trading.
One senior producer, who asked not to be named, said: “We were always told ‘This is a temporary hick-up with money’ and were promised deals would happen shortly.
“But I together with five other colleagues were not paid for the last two months that we worked for the company.”
Mr Foss and others at TV London Ltd had no idea Mr Fenton, of Winchester Road, was wanted on 348 charges of tax fraud in South Africa and that two warrants for his arrest in that country are active to this day.
The theatre critic says he “wouldn’t have touched him with a barge-pole” had he known and has called for Mr Fenton’s extradition.
“It really is a disgrace that this man isn’t being whipped over to South Africa to face these charges,” he said. “It’s a huge massive gaping loophole.”
But South African authorities are powerless to act as extradition treaties between the UK and South Africa do not cover tax fraud charges.
The Ham&High has telephoned, emailed and written to Mr Fenton to put these allegations to him.
He told our reporter “I don’t think I can really comment” but has not responded to our requests for further comment.
‘I’M SURE SOMEBODY WILL MAKE A FILM ABOUT THAT MAN’
“He certainly had an extraordinary and colourful personality.”
This is how Chris Cooper, general manager of the HMS President, where media company TV London Ltd was based, describes its managing director Edmond Fenton.
Mr Cooper worked on the World War One destroyer, moored on Victoria Embankment, from 1996 until it moved into a dry dock to undergo renovations for its centenary year last month.
He says Mr Fenton left a vivid impression on his memory.
“I think his problem was he used his extraordinary personality to persuade a lot of people to join TV London Ltd and looking back on it now you’d have to say that technology caught up with him,” he said.
The company produced a television channel playing in hotel rooms across the capital that promoted London as a tourist destination, presented at one time by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
But developments in mobile internet technology quickly saw the concept date and TV London Ltd fell behind with rent, Mr Cooper says, and folded in 2010.
The 72-year-old, of East Sussex, describes colourful scenes after Mr Fenton’s departure from HMS President.
“I’m sure somebody is going to produce a film about that man, because it would make a wonderful story one day,” said Mr Cooper. “The really interesting people were those who came after he left the ship. There were all sorts of people phoning up and asking for him.”
IS EDMOND FENTON STILL DOING BUSINESS IN THE UK?
Edmond Fenton’s case has shown that somebody wanted on criminal charges of tax fraud in another country can continue to do business in the UK.
Mr Fenton is currently a listed director of five UK companies.
Yet those who do business with him have no means of knowing he is wanted for arrest over 348 counts of tax fraud in South Africa.
Mr Fenton is a director of corporate hospitality firm Hamlet Group Plc, which portrays itself as an aspiring “icon of the hospitality industry in Essex”. It is registered to Hamlet Court Road in Westcliff-On-Sea, Essex.
He is director of Apartments and Villas Worldwide Ltd, which markets itself as providing luxury villas to rent in Portugal.
Mr Fenton is also a director of Popadom (Westcliff) Ltd, World TV Ltd and Universal Beverage Sales Ltd.
Two dissolved companies list Mr Fenton as a director, What’s On Media (London) Ltd and Fone International Plc.