A married couple have been banned from working in finance after they deceived more than 4,000 customers out of £7million through their debt management firm, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.
Adrian and Christine Whitehurst, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, were former directors of now-dissolved debt management firm First Step Finance Ltd.
The FCA said the couple’s customers were largely vulnerable people who went to the firm for help to pay off their debts. The firm said it would build up a pot of money for each customer from monthly contributions to pay off creditors.
Adrian and Christine Whitehurst have been banned from working in finance
Instead, the Whitehursts spent over £500,000 on holidays, bars and restaurants, including stays at five-star luxury hotels in Marbella, Venice, Vienna and Greece, the FCA said.
Pictures on social media showed the Whitehursts watching lions, zebras and giraffes on a safari in Kenya, posing with TV star Simon Cowell on the set of Britain’s Got Talent and enjoying lunches at a luxury resort in Spain.
The ban is the strongest action the FCA can take since the misconduct took place in the six years before responsibility for regulating consumer credit was handed to the watchdog in 2014.
The FCA has also referred the Whitehursts to the City of London Police, who are considering the matter, the watchdog said. City of London police had no immediate comment.
The firm’s customers will not be able to recover their money because the losses are not covered by Britain’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
‘The Whitehursts were trusted by their customers, who were extremely vulnerable, to help them with their debt problems,’ FCA Executive Director for Enforcement Mark Steward said.
These pictures show the luxury life the Whitehursts lived – including extravagant holidays in Marbella, Venice, Vienna and Greece
Mrs Whitehurst posed with TV star Simon Cowell on the set of Britain’s Got Talent
‘They abused this trust, living a luxury lifestyle at the expense of people who could not afford to lose their money.’
Over 200,000 pounds was spent on luxury cars, including a Bentley, a Range Rover and a Ducati, with significant sums on goods from Hermes and Louis Vuitton, the FCA said.
Last week the FCA began an in-depth investigation into the debt management sector after uncovering poor practices.