A businessman at the centre of a smear campaign has defended his reputation and insisted: “I don’t rip people off – I am a man of principle.”
Mark Sheppard is the man behind the Richmond Harvey estate agents in Oswestry town centre and the Walker Sheppard Construction Group of companies.
He has recently closed the branch office of Richmond Harvey in Chirk.
Previous to this, between 2010 and 2016, he was forced to liquidate two of the Walker Sheppard Group’s S.P.V. construction companies with debts totalling close to £3 million.
Together, it was enough for firms in town to receive anonymous paperwork outlining Mr Sheppard’s dealings and casting doubts on his business integrity.
Mr Sheppard, 54, today hits back and says he “always pays his bills” – and spoke frankly about why the businesses closed and the lengths he has gone to keep his employees in work throughout the credit crunch.
He said: “I was forced to close the Chirk office of Richmond Harvey because it wasn’t profitable and I was unable to continue subsidising the losses. It was dragging down the head office in Oswestry, which is now able to flourish.
“We opened in Chirk because a company director lived there and believed he and his wife could bring in sufficient business to make it work. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
“Although it closed with debts, the only person owed money was myself plus a debt to HMRC. There were no trade or local creditors.
“My core business interests are property and construction, which are controlled by the Walker Sheppard Group of companies and the estate agency businesses – although completely separate entities – were created as a by-product of this.
“Let me tell you how the property business works. You set up a new Limited Company S.P.V. (Special Purpose Vehicle) for each new construction site. This is designed by funders to ‘ring-fence’ each development. You might have several different projects running at any one time each with a separate funder. That way developers protect their funding.
“Some of the big developers have hundreds of S.P.V. companies.
“It is true I was forced to liquidate two of the S.P.V. companies but in each case, with the support of the individual funding bank, we were able to complete the projects. The Walker Sheppard Group of companies is still strong.
“I have worked with the bank all the way through this difficult period and they have underwritten any losses for the past seven years.
“I’m still working with the bank. They have stood by me 100 per cent. Would they do that if I had not acted responsibly and with integrity?”
When he saw the documents sent to local firms as part of the smear campaign, Mr Sheppard said: “It’s sickening. These people don’t understand what I have gone through to survive one of the worst recessions in modern times.
“Like many other developers, I was hard hit by the banking crisis, which caused the deep recession between 2007 and 2014. Despite the difficulties, I faced up to the challenge and with the support of the banks, I brought all my sites through to successful completion.
“This seven-year period had not been without great personal cost.
“This smear campaign appears to be a malicious attempt to drag my name down, which is hateful and totally unjustified.
“No local businesses have been harmed. Everybody has been paid around here.
“It would have been easy in 2007 for me to throw in the towel and run away from it all, leaving a list of local creditors – but I didn’t. Facing up to the demands of keeping the business running has cost me dearly.”
Mr Sheppard said that far from being the kind of businessman who would cut and run, he is determined to recoup his losses. “I’ve been baling out water for the past six or seven years and now I intend to grow. The only way to achieve that is through hard work, which is the only way I know.
“I am a straight-forward hands-on builder and have no time for businesses that rack up debts, close down, and then start up again, leaving people unpaid. What they do is morally wrong.
“Look at our products – look at what we do. In 2009 I was invited to be in Who’s Who. Our properties and developments have won awards. In April I am invited to Cardiff to receive an award as the ‘best builder in Wales’.”