"Please...if a Biles tries to revive me...turn it off."
Ince Gordon Dadds has filed for administration, while its ex-CEO has registered multiple company names relating to Ince as part of an apparent bid to reclaim the firm.
The listed law firm’s shares were suspended on 3 January when it was unable to produce its accounts, and it announced on Wednesday that after almost four months its audit remained “uncompleted”.
Ince said the length of BDO’s auditing process had put “increasing pressure” on cash flows and that when a major creditor decided it would “no longer continue to support the business” the Ince board concluded it had "no choice" but to place the company into administration.
Ince has asked the court to appoint an administrator, Quantuma, to run a firesale of the business “as soon as possible”.
The firm’s 2021 accounts, the last filed, showed that Ince employed 208 fee-earners and 218 support staff, although ROF understands numerous redundancies have been made since then.
Ince was once an esteemed City shipping firm, but collapsed in 2018. Staff voted it the Golden Turd, and it was snapped up in a pre-pack administration deal by Gordon Dadds, a listed firm run by Chief Executive Adrian Biles.
Biles, some of whose relatives occupied senior positions in the company, renamed Gordon Dadds as Ince. In 2022 the firm made headlines when John Biles, then the company's finance chief, became embroiled in accusations that a member of Ince’s leadership team had harassed a waitress at a boozy restaurant meal. John Biles later left the firm, which insisted the departure was an unconnected, planned retirement.
A bombshell market announcement revealed in June 2022 that Ince had lost £5m as a result of a ransomware attack the previous year, which it transpired had shut down Ince’s time recording systems and compelled staff to work on paper for several weeks. The firm confirmed that it was in such dire financial straits that it had been unable to repay a loan, and that it would have to sell elements of its network, close offices, and make redundancies in order to raise £8.6m to prop up the business.
Biles, who was controversially awarded a £500k bonus in 2021, was replaced as CEO and later dumped out of the firm in September 2020 due to a “conflict of interest”. The impression of managerial dysfunction was compounded when it emerged that John and Adrian Biles had both been in the process of suing Ince, which had itself counterclaimed against the pair until a settlement was agreed.
Ince shares were temporarily suspended in 2021 when it announced that it was buying Arden Partners, a broker which was also its nominated advisor. The role was required to be independent under AIM rules, a fact that appears to have escaped Ince and which resulted in a halt to trading while Arden resigned and a replacement nominated advisor was rustled up before the company could be subject to summary delisting.
Donald Brown, Arden's CEO, replaced Adrian Biles at the top of Ince, but he and Managing Partner Jenette Newman proved unable to stop the slide despite a slew of disposals. Eyebrows were raised when Arden, purchased for £10m, was subsequently sold for just £1m, with Ince disclosing that it had proved loss-making.
The company’s shares were suspended for a second time on 3 January 2023 when Ince was unable to produce its financial results for 2022.
Ince said initially that "the complexity of historic and legacy accounting issues" meant its new auditor, BDO, required "more time to conclude their outstanding audit work", but that it expected the issue to be resolved by 31 January.
When that deadline passed, the firm announced a “short delay”, then asked for "approximately two more weeks", then predicted “early March”, having blamed issues in its Hong Kong office, and then stopped giving deadlines altogether.
In the meantime, other events provided hints of the frantic fund-raising, cost-cutting and chaos behind the scenes.
While the audit remained unforthcoming, Ince sold its 15-person Bristol-based personal injury wing for £1.3m, disposed of its Gibraltar office for £490k, split from its Germany branch, revealed that it had omitted in error to disclose that Newman held a million shares in the business, and lost its Senior Partner.
Now the firm has crumbled, leaving hundreds of employees in limbo.
The company's latest nominated advisor resigned on Thursday, triggering a one-month countdown to delisting, while the FTSE confirmed that the company would be deleted from the FTSE UK Index next Tuesday. Shareholders outside of Ince were left stunned. “Very painful for me”, said one. “I had/have thousands of shares at an average of 49p. Ouch.”
“Easy to say, with hindsight, we should have done more DD”, said another shareholder who failed to read ROF: “However as the largest quoted law firm (at one time), shareholders including Legal & General and with a history dating from 1866 I do not think this could have been predicted”.
“There are so many issues over the past 2 years that need investigating”, said a third, adding “I've already lost thousands on this company”. Some large shareholders are said to be considering legal action against the company, claiming it made misleading representations about their investments.
Ince declined to comment, other than to refute via a spokesperson a rumour that Newman had gone on holiday for two weeks, and to clarify that she had actually been working seven days a week since Christmas.
A development which may worry remaining staff further is the suggestion, allegedly vocalised by Brown in a fiery all-staff update meeting this week, that Adrian Biles made a bid for the firm. He has already re-entered law by buying up failed private client firm Child & Child. Now Companies House shows he has also been busily registering company names: Ince & Co Legal Limited, Ince & Co UK Limited, Ince & Co London Limited, and Ince & Co Law Limited.