'Devastated' hotel investors fly to UK seeking their money

By Dan Box
BBC News

Image source, Tony Armstrong
Image caption,
Signature Living owns a series of luxury hotels across the UK

International investors in a luxury hotel chain say they have had to fly to the UK to ask for their money back.

Several, from countries across Europe and Asia, were then promised hundreds of thousands of pounds that never materialised, the BBC has learned.

Liverpool-based Signature Living owns a number of historic and refurbished properties across the UK.

Its founder Lawrence Kenwright said investors would eventually get their money and "they have to trust me".

'You get nothing'

"It's just an appalling way to treat investors," said Susanne Grampe, who travelled to Liverpool last month from Germany in a face-to-face attempt to recoup about £110,000 owed to her.

"I'm devastated," she added.

Ms Grampe said she invested in the company's football-themed George Best Hotel in Belfast and the money was meant to help pay for the care of her elderly parents.

The BBC has seen a document, signed by a senior Signature executive, appearing to confirm the amount owed and promising to repay her over six weekly payments, starting on 6 November.

To date, Ms Grampe said these payments had not been made.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Lawrence Kenwright has previously suggested he may stand for election as Liverpool mayor

In a separate email in July, Mr Kenwright previously promised to repay Ms Grampe, saying: "I will ensure that you get another 20k payment this Friday and every Friday thereafter.

"Please keep in contact with me and I will ensure that this happens."

No payment was made, Ms Grampe said.

"It's bad enough if they can't pay you," she said. "But I would be more happy if they just say that, rather than saying 'You will get this and that' and then you get nothing."

Image source, Signature Living
Image caption,
Investors in Signature Living were encouraged to buy individual rooms in return for a guaranteed return on the investment

Mr Kenwright told the BBC he had no memory of the email.

He said his company was currently unable to repay its investors as "any bit of spare money that the company has goes on the building sites".

Signature has refurbished a number of high-profile buildings, including Liverpool's Shankly Hotel and the Exchange Hotel in Cardiff.

Mr Kenwright, who also has his own YouTube channel and recently presented a TedX talk on "entrepreneurial socialism", said investors would all be paid once the various hotels involved had been completed and sold.

"I'm doing my best," he said. "They're going to have to trust me."

Image source, Geograph / Albert Bridge
Image caption,
The opening date for the George Best Hotel in Belfast has yet to be confirmed

More than a dozen investors in Signature hotels across the UK have told the BBC they were still owed money.

Some said this was their retirement savings.

Documents and emails showed the company had also recently promised other investors it would pay them, only for these payments not to take place.

'I regret investing'

One Hong Kong real estate agent, who has been representing a number of investors in Cardiff's Exchange Hotel, said she had flown to the UK three times over the past two years hoping to meet Mr Kenwright and ask for money owed to them.

"Of course I regret investing in Signature Living," she said. "It affects the reputation of the UK property market. People are very afraid to invest there now."

This investor said she had been unable to meet Mr Kenwright, despite visiting several Signature properties.

"We have completely stopped investing in Liverpool now," she said.

Image source, Tony Armstrong
Image caption,
Signature Living is now hoping to sell several hotels, including the Titanic-themed 30 James Street Hotel

A Taiwanese investor in the Shankly Hotel, who travelled to Liverpool earlier this month to meet Mr Kenwright, said he was personally promised repayments that had yet to be made.

The BBC has seen documents, provided by Signature during the investor's visit, claiming the money owed would be paid in a series of bank transfers.

To date the money has not appeared, he said.

"Originally it looked like a good deal," the investor said of his investment in Signature.

He said Mr Kenwright was "creating the image of a successful businessman and charity (figure)".

"I feel very, very worried. I'm worried our money will be gone one day," he added.

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