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'Hampers bosses knew of troubles'.

Byline: By Lauren Turner South Wales Echo

Bosses at Christmas mail-order company Farepak knew they could go bust three months ago, it has been claimed.

The hamper company was called into administration earlier this month, devastating families like Julie Irwins across Cardiff and the Valleys, who lost thousands of pounds they had saved.

It has now been alleged the company knew it was in financial difficulty 15 weeks ago but continued to take money from customers.

Ministers have launched an investigation into managing director Nick Gilodi-Johnson and his fellow directors.

Jackie Chant, an agent for 12 customers, said Farepak's conduct was 'appalling'.

The 33-year-old, from Llanrumney, Cardiff, said: 'The families hit are those that save hard because they can't wait until November or December to pay such a huge amount.

'If they knew in the summer it was going to be a problem, why did they carry on taking people's hard-earned money when they couldn't honour what had been ordered?

'I'm glad they're being investigated but I don't know what can be done now - if there's no money left in the pot, nobody can get anything back.'

It has been reported that on June 30, Farepak bosses said they would run out of money by autumn unless they could borrow some more. But on August 23, the HBOS bank said they could not lend them any more because Farepak could not be saved.

Farepak was urged to protect customers' money by the Hamper Industry Trade Association (HITA), but they said protecting clients wasn't a 'legal requirement'.

HITA spokesman Neil Henderson-Begg said: 'We wanted to know what was going on. They said they were confident they would get additional funding and would honour their obligations.

'We need to know why such a large amount of time elapsed between the suspension of shares and the appointment of administrators.

'Our concern is that the Farepak payments may have been used to support other parts of the business.'

Consumer minister Ian McCartney said: 'I'm going to work with the Office of Fair Trading and the rest of the Christmas hamper industry to make sure these schemes are secure in the future.'
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 30, 2006
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