Liverpool property developer Elliot Lawless was arrested at home last December and now the High Court has said the search warrants should not have been issued. Tony McDonough reports
A police raid on the home of Liverpool property developer Elliot Lawless in December last year has been declared unlawful by the High Court.
The court has granted Mr Lawless, founder of Elliot Group, an order quashing the search warrants for the police raids on his city centre home, during which more than £300,000 in cash was seized. It comes after another court ruling in March which refused to allow the police extend the businessman’s bail. The cash may now be handed back.
Mr Lawless, was arrested by Merseyside Police on December 18, 2019, as part of an ongoing fraud and corruption investigation. Nick Kavanagh, director of regeneration and employment at Liverpool City Council, was arrested on the same day as part of the same investigation.
Both men were later released on conditional bail. No charges have been brought and the investigation remains live. It is believed, following the March court ruling, that Mr Kavanagh is also no longer on bail.
Mr Lawless, who has always maintained his innocence, welcomed the latest court ruling but claims the publicity surrounding the investigation has scared off potential investors leading to two city centre residential schemes, worth a combined £350m, collapsing into administration.
The latest ruling follows a legal claim made by Elliot Lawless that the search warrants should not have been issued and should never have been carried out. Merseyside Police has agreed to settle the claim and will pay Mr Lawless’s costs.
Noted in their agreement with Mr Lawless, Merseyside Police accepted:
- No reasons were given by the Justice of the Peace for granting the warrant beyond a recital of the statutory criteria and confirmation that he considered those criteria to be satisfied. No minutes of the hearing were made by either the court clerk or the police.
- The unlawful searches were widely publicised and three Elliot Group companies were subsequently placed into administration.
Mr Lawless said: “I am very pleased that the police quickly agreed to settle these proceedings. I have consistently denied any wrongdoing and the allegations made are baseless. Today’s agreed order is another major step towards bringing the investigation to a conclusion.”
In March, Elliot Group placed the £250m Infinity scheme, comprising three residential towers close to Liverpool’s waterfront, and the £100m Aura student accommodation project close to the Knowledge Quarter, into administration, as well as a third scheme in Salford.
Mr Lawless said the the arrest came about due to a report sent to the police by the chief executive of Liverpool City Council, Tony Reeves. He adde: “Having heard the claims made during this process I feel the police have been misled.
“Hundreds of local workers lost their jobs as a result of the arrest and tens of millions of pounds of investors’ funds are now at risk. Two major sites blight Liverpool city centre and the loss of council tax revenue and New Homes Bonus for the council will run into millions.
“Factor in the reputational harm to Liverpool and you might reasonably conclude that this has not been the city’s finest hour. Prior to my arrest I was in advanced discussions with a number of leading national and international funds, which have since pulled out.”
Commenting on the administration process, he added: “I shall continue to work with the administrators to see how we can secure best value for our investors. I am now going to get back to work, bringing jobs and investment to Liverpool and the wider North West.
“I have a number of schemes in the pipeline and have instructed my architects and planning consultants to go full speed on these. I am keen to begin working with Liverpool Council again to develop schemes that will add value to the city and take it forward economically and physically.”
Mr Elliot says he is also now fully co-operating with the police investigation. He said: “As part of the settlement of my judicial review, I have agreed voluntarily to provide relevant documents and electronic records to the police so that they can complete their investigation without further delay.”
In a statement, Merseyside Police said: “Merseyside Police can confirm that, following an application for Judicial Review being issued by the High Court, the force has sought independent legal advice, which concluded that there were technical difficulties in relation to three warrants executed at Beetham Plaza on 18 December 2020.
“The force has consented to quashing the warrants carried out at Beetham Plaza, as a result the Judicial Review proceedings have been concluded by consent. However, Merseyside Police continue with their investigation, and retain the £337,342.00 and 10,442.10 euros cash seized as part of the investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
“As part of the consent order, Mr Lawless has agreed to Merseyside Police retaining copies of exhibits seized when the warrants were executed.”
Liverpool City Council also issued a statement, saying: “Liverpool City Council is continuing to co-operate with Mersey Police’s ongoing investigation.”