Company boss convicted after refusing TPR info and threatening its staff

Jonathan Stapleton reports...

The chief executive of a packaging company has been convicted of refusing to give information to The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and lambasted for ‘intolerable’ behaviour towards the watchdog’s staff.

The regulator said Thomas Christopher Wrigley – who was both the chief executive and major shareholder of Discovery Flexibles Limited as well as being the chair of trustees for the company’s pension scheme – repeatedly refused to comply with TPR’s requests for information in connection with an investigation into how the scheme was being run.

TPR had been tipped off by a whistleblower that Wrigley, in his role as chair of trustees, was considering investing more than £1.2m of pension scheme funds in Discovery Flexibles.

The watchdog said there are restrictions on the proportion of an occupational pension scheme’s funds that trustees may invest in its sponsoring employer and the form this may take, so TPR launched an investigation into whether these restrictions had been or were likely to be breached.

The determination notice revealed that, when pushed for a response to its questions by TPR, Wrigley threatened the TPR case manager involved, saying: “If you cross me again I will come after you, personally, with my legal team”.

On being pressed further for a response, Wrigley responded via email – threatening the TPR staff member saying: “I have just opened a disgraceful letter. This is your last chance. Leave me alone or I will retaliate”.

TPR referred Wrigley’s refusal to provide information to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), which is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland, where the offence occurred. After the COPFS launched a prosecution against him, Wrigley pleaded guilty at Dundee Sheriff Court to a charge of failing or refusing to provide information to TPR without good excuse. He was fined £400.

Ongoing concerns about governance of the pension scheme has led to TPR’s determinations panel also prohibiting Wrigley from acting as a pension scheme trustee. TPR has appointed an independent trustee to act in Wrigley’s place on the company pension scheme.

The regulator was concerned about Wrigley’s integrity, his inappropriate behaviour and his failure to manage the conflict of interest of him being both chairman of the pension scheme trustees and chief executive of the sponsoring employer.

Obdurate and aggressive attitude

Wrigley’s behaviour was taken into consideration by the determinations panel, which found: “There was, over a relatively short period, an evolution of Mr Wrigley’s conduct, from the initiation of a proposal which, as a trustee, he should never have made or pursued, to an obdurate and aggressive attitude of non-cooperation with the regulator, all of which demonstrated that he was not a fit and proper person to be a trustee.”

TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation Nicola Parish said: “Wrigley earned himself a criminal record by refusing to give us the information he was legally required to.

“His behaviour towards TPR staff doing their job was intolerable so I welcome the fact that the Determination Panel took this into consideration when it decided to prohibit him.”

Parish added: “Complying with our powers is not optional – if we ask you for information under Section 72 you must provide it.

“If you fail to give us information we’ve asked for, you should be prepared to be prosecuted – and convicted.”