Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s Night Time Economy Advisor, Chair of the Night Time Industries Association, and founder of Manchester’s Warehouse Project and Parklife Festival (both now majority owned by Live Nation), has announced that he has withdrawn his threat to sue the Manchester Mill for defamation following a series of damning allegations by the publication.

The allegations - which were first published on 16 May - relate to a COVID Culture Recovery Fund application submitted by a company called Primary Event Solutions Limited, of which Lord was a director and shareholder. 

In a document sent to and published by The Mill last week, solicitors acting for Lord note that they are “instructed by our client in respect of a claim against you for libel arising from the publication of an article on The Mill website dated 16 May 2024 entitled: ‘Exclusive Did Sacha Lord cheat his way to £400,000 of public money during the pandemic?’” That evening Lord pulled out of a keynote address that he was due to deliver at The Great Escape in Brighton. 

The law firm acting for Lord demanded that The Mill remove its article and publish an apology by 4pm on Tuesday 21 May. 

The Mill refused - and instead doubled down on its investigation, making a call for its readers to engage in a “community fact check” of the Arts Council application from Primary Event Solutions, which it had obtained as part of a freedom of information request, publishing the document on its website for people to scrutinise. 

By 2pm the following day - Wednesday 22 May - Arts Council England contacted The Mill to confirm that it would be “conducting additional checks on the application from Primary Event Solutions”. This was fairly quickly followed by a statement from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority which said that, “based on new information” that it had received, it would also begin its own “factfinding exercise”. The GMCA is headed up by mayor Andy Burnham, who appointed Lord as Night Time Economy Advisor.

By this morning Lord had withdrawn his threat to sue The Mill for libel and said that he will “fully cooperate” with the Arts Council and GMCA investigations. 

In his lengthy 1500 word statement saying that he would not, after all, be suing The Mill, Lord said that the publication had “alleged that Primary Event Solutions Limited deliberately lied in its Culture Recovery Fund application, that I am a dishonest person, and that I have misused over £400,000 of public money”. Those allegations, Lord continued, “are all false”, going on to say that he believes that The Mill’s allegations are “based on a misunderstanding as to the nature of the Culture Recovery Fund”.

A key part of the Culture Recovery Fund was to safeguard not only public and audience facing companies in the cultural sector, but also the crucial supply chain on which those companies rely. Indeed, in its own guidance, the Arts Council made the point that a “supply chain haulage company is unlikely to undertake substantial audience facing activity” but might, nonetheless, be eligible for CRF funding. 

Primary Event Solutions Limited had changed its name from Primary Security Limited on Monday 19 Oct 2020. Notably this was the first working day after the date Arts Council had said that it would let applications for the second round of its first Culture Recovery Fund grants programme know if their application had succeeded. 

The Warehouse Project (Manchester) Limited - another company associated with Lord, though majority owned by Live Nation - had successfully been awarded £340,381 as part of the first round of CRF funding.

In its application, PES said, “Our request to CRF is only £480,072” which would allow it to “bridge” the period April to June 2021 (the specific period set by Arts Council and the government for CRF funding) as well as allowing it to “pay debts and invest in means to generate income”.

Those debts - according to details in the ACE application - may have included a Bounce Back Loan of £50,000 and deferred VAT of £85,000, as well as £36,000 in deferred rent owed to its landlord. Though, on that one, The Mill has some interesting points to make.

In December 2022 the company extended its accounting period, meaning that the accounts for the year ending 31 Mar 2022 - which would have been due on 31 Dec 2022 - would cover the period up to 30 Sep 2022, the eighteen month maximum allowed under company regulations in the UK, and an extraordinary measure that is only permitted under company law once every five years. 

With that set of accounts due to be filed no later than nine months following the end of the accounting period, accounts should have been filed with Companies House on 30 Jun 2023. That didn’t happen, and on 29 Aug last year the Registrar Of Companies made an application to strike the company off the register. By 11 Sep 2023 liquidators were appointed to wind up the company, and a couple of weeks later they published a statement of affairs showing that the company had just £1000 in its bank account but owed just under £67,000 in VAT and had a balance of £32,253 remaining on its Bounce Back Loan. 

Concluding his three page “public statement” on his decision not to sue The Mill, Lord says that despite the “very serious and damaging allegations” made by the publication he has “decided not to pursue legal action for the time being” but that he will “review that position on an ongoing basis”. 

This decision, says Lord, is partly motivated by the knowledge that taking legal action would be a “major distraction” from his “work and family life” but also - apparently very graciously - that he does not wish to “stifle The Mill’s freedom of expression”. Instead, he says, he’s decided that he needs to “move on” and dedicate “time and resources to support the cultural life of Greater Manchester”. 

Quite how much of his time will be required in that respect is uncertain. Two Lib Dem councillors on an important GMCA “overview and scrutiny” committee, and “ten Conservative group leaders across Great Manchester”, have now called for suspension of Lord from his unpaid Night Time Economy advisory role, while the ACE and GMCA investigations run their course. 

Read The Manchester Mill’s full investigation here.

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