Solicitor who took Ince public reaches deal to leave business

Biles: £15,000 payout

The solicitor who took what is now the Ince Group public has left the business after reaching a settlement in which he, his father and the firm have waived all claims against each other.

The AIM-listed business announced in July that Adrian Biles was to step down as chief executive, which he did in August. But he stayed a director while the terms of his departure from the board were finalised.

Then, earlier this month, the group announced that Mr Biles had been removed as a director with immediate effect, “as a result of circumstances which may give rise to a conflict of interest” between him and the firm.

His father, John Biles, who was head of finance, was replaced as well. Between them, Adrian and John Biles hold 4.5% of the firm’s shares; at the time of listing, Adrian Biles had 26.7% of the firm’s shares.

This week, Ince told the stock exchange that it has now entered into individual settlement agreements with the pair and both have left their positions.

“Under the settlement agreements, all parties have agreed to waive all claims against each other. This includes amounts of approximately £670,000 owed to the group by Adrian and John Biles and their associate companies, as well as potential liabilities of the group to Adrian and John Biles of approximately £690,000 relating to claims for loss of office, rent and other expenses.

“A payment of £15,000 will be paid to each of Adrian Biles and John Biles for loss of office and their interests in shares in the company must be retained until 10 October 2022.”

When taking what was then Gordon Dadds public in 2017, Mr Biles outlined an ambitious acquisition strategy to double its £25m revenue over three years by becoming a “major consolidator” of both top 200 law firms and also smaller practices through a back-office platform that it has developed.

The strategy did not really pan out in that way, particularly after the acquisition of Ince & Co at the turn of 2019, and the firm has struggled since. From a peak of 191p in September 2018, the share price is now just 4.5p.

This year has seen the group suffer a cyber-attack, issue a profits warning, complete an emergency £9.3m fundraise, and dispose of the first business it acquired after listing – a corporate tax consultancy to the oil and gas industry – as it looks to focus on its core legal practice.

However, in a trading update issued today, Ince said revenues have continued to recover to “near 2021 levels”.

“The group currently has cash of approximately £3.5m and net debt of approximately £15m. The group’s third-party debt funders remain supportive of the group and the new management’s strategy for cost reductions, rationalisations and a more sector and specialism focussed strategic approach to future growth.

“An analysis of recent performance indicates that the business is on track to have increased trading activity over the full year to 31 March 2023. However, results for the six months to 30 September 2022 are not expected to improve on the same period in the prior year on a like-for-like basis.”

Separately, the chief executive of one of the more successful listed law firms, Keystone Law, has spent £500,000 to buy 111,110 shares.

James Knight now holds nearly 9m Keystone shares, representing 28.6% of its issued share capital and worth nearly £40m at yesterday’s closing price of 440p.

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