Norfolk horsebox manufacturer Highbarn is preparing to go into compulsory liquidation, leaving scores of angry customers in its wake.
Claire Wales, director of Highbarn Equestrian Ltd, of Cannon House, Marham, Kings Lynn, and Highbarn Horseboxes Ltd of Hall Farm, Beachamwell, King’s Lynn, said: “The spiralling manufacturing costs and financial burden from foot-and-mouth eventually was too much.”
The news has been greeted with dismay by customers, who have large deposits lodged with the company for unfinished lorries.
Robert Horton-Smith from Earl Shilton in Leicestershire has been waiting a month for his new horsebox to be delivered, having already paid out £22,000.
“It allegedly set out from Norfolk three times between 14 and 29 March, but has never arrived,” said Mr Horton-Smith. “Claire Wales has refused me access to Highbarn’s premises or to provideany information.”
Stuart Land from licensed insolvency practitioner Jacksons Jolliffe Cork confirmed to H&H that his company had filed a petition to King’s Lynn court for Highbarn Equestrian, and a court date was likely for early May. Should the court make a winding up order against the company, he said a liquidator and/or receiver would then be appointed.
As part of a “general body of creditors”, Mr Land said customers would be “well down the priority list”.
“The receiver will notify all creditors, so they can make claims,” he said, adding that he could not confirm whether Highbarn Horseboxes had applied for compulsory liquidation.
Show jumper Andrew Saywell, owner of Select Horseboxes, used to sell Highbarn boxes and has been inundated with calls from customers.
“We are no longer associated with Highbarn in any way,” he said. “We’re probably a bigger creditor than anyone else — we had orders placed with them and deposits paid.”
Two more Highbarn customers from Yorkshire contacted Horse & Hound about lost deposits.
Debbie Rutherford from Tadcaster in Yorkshire paid £7,000 towards a £17,000 three-horse box.
“We checked it out with Companies House, but Highbarn was a reputable name,” said Mrs Rutherford, adding she was confused over the existence of two “Highbarn” companies. “Claire Wales has never given me a contract or a receipt. People need to be wary of chucking down that kind of deposit on an unfinished box.”
Suzy Buttress, also from Yorkshire, left a deposit of £5,000 for an unfinished box in February.
“I had a box on order for five weeks, with a six-week delivery time,” she said. “We heard nothing, so went to Norfolk to discover the place shut up and empty. Five weeks ago, there were seven or eight mechanics working there.”
Claire Wales told H&H all Highbarn customers had received receipts and contracts, and that she was “trying to do her best” to resolve the situation.
“It is a very fickle business,” she said. “It’s only been obvious for the past two to three weeks that we couldn’t pull things round. We’ve been in business for 15 years and it’s gut-wrenching.
“We hope it will have an amicable ending for all.”
Claire Williams of the British Equestrian Trade Association said the scenario reinforced the need for a trade body for horsebox dealers and manufacturers, to offer customers peace of mind.
“It seems that everywhere apart from the UK has one,” she said.
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