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Exposed: The not very artful dodger; PAINTINGS 'EXPERT' IS REALLY A COMMON COLD CALLER.

Byline: PENMAN INVESTIGATES

IT was a strange admission. The boss of a collapsed art investment company confessing that he had no training in the art market.

But what Harry Downer had been trained in was how to cold-call members of the public.

He admitted he'd learnt his trade while at investment firm European Fine Wines Limited. Which isn't something to brag about, because it was liquidated last year owing PS2.8million.

Two of its former directors, Scott Assemakis and David Evans, have 11-year bans from running companies.

Downer himself went on to run Elliott House Collections Limited, which has also gone into liquidation after its bank accounts were frozen.

Among the creditors is a retired seaman living in Somerset who invested PS8,600 in two instalments.

"It all began with a cold call," said the ex-sailor, who has asked us not to identify him.

"They said what great returns there were in art so I thought I'd give it a go with a small investment, about PS2,000. I never saw the painting.

"They said it was kept in a secure warehouse.

"Then I was told that it had produced a nice return of about 12%, so I decided to go in bigger and that's when it all came unstuck."

Among the works being touted on the Elliott House website were ones by Inkie, one of the best-known street artists in the country.

Inkie told me: "It appears this company has been selling prints saying they have exclusive authority on my behalf, which is untrue. I believe they PRINTS Street Inkie ha wh thro party resold at v prices on th have bought wholesale prints through a third party and have resold at vastly inflated prices on the secondary market. This is certainly not something that I condone and I am looking to get this practice shut down."

Downer, 27, would not say how much he bought the pictures for, or how much he charged.

He said he obtained works by Inkie from an authorised distributor and added that he was the biggest loser from the firm's collapse.

"I've got nothing to show for it now. I put everything I had into that business," he said at his home in New Eltham, south-east London.

About 60 clients have been told their art is stored in the London-based Art Move warehouse. And Downer claimed: "Nobody has gone without what they are owed."

But this is at odds with the liquidator's report showing a deficit of more than PS28,000.

There's also a dispute over the pictures on his Elliott House website that were taken from the websites of London galleries.

They told us that they'd never dealt with Elliott House.

Downer claimed to have correspondence proving that they did but added that it was on his laptop - which was with the liquidator.

As for the claim by Elliott House to be a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild, it was - but that membership expired a year ago.

A Guild spokeswoman said: "We have been attempting to have them remove our logo from the ehcltd.com website since then."

Another art investment company, Grosvenor House Collections, also claims on its website to be a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild. It isn't.

The company told me that this was an "editing error" and references to the Guild would be removed.

Three reasons to think twice before investing in contemporary art

1 The art world is fickle, today's hot artist might be forgotten tomorrow.

2 This is not a liquid market and there is no obvious outlet when you want to sell your investment.

3 Art is not an investment regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, so there's no compensation scheme available if the deal turns sour.

I made 12% so went in bigger. Then it all came unstuck

CAPTION(S):

PRINTS Street artist Inkie

OUT OF THE PICTURE Harry Downer's firm went into liquidation
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 15, 2015
Words:654
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