Investors who lost millions in the collapse of a fund run by the former star stockpicker Neil Woodford have brought group litigation against the administrator in hopes of recouping at least £18m.
The law firm Harcus Parker lodged its first batch of claims on behalf of 1,500 savers at the high court in London on Friday morning. Woodford himself is not the target – the claim is against the administrator of his fund, Link Fund Solutions, which is accused of failing in its duty to protect investors. Lawyers expect to expand the suit to represent at least 7,000 claimants.
The case will pile pressure on Link, which is also facing a claim from another law firm, Leigh Day, which could represent up to 12,000 investors.
UK regulations put administrators such as Link in charge of monitoring and supervising the investments executed by the fund managers.
Harcus Parker claims Link breached UK rules that require the firm to monitor financial risks and the liquidity of the fund, referring to how quickly investments could be converted to cash in order to pay investors. Poor performance of a number of Woodford’s investments, combined with his decision to put money in a number of private unlisted companies that were harder to sell, led to the fund’s suspension and eventual collapse in October 2019.
The once-star fund manager was subsequently removed as investment manager, and its administrator, Link, wound it down, returning money to many investors at a steep loss.
Harcus Parker is now suing Link for at least £18m, which it says is based on calculations of what investors would have earned through their investment had the firm not collapsed. The figure is also understood to take into account money that has been returned to investors through the winding-down – worth about £2.4bn. The fund was worth about £10bn at its peak.
About 300,000 investors were affected by the equity fund’s collapse three years ago.
Daniel Kerrigan, a senior associate at Harcus Parker, said: “Three years on from the suspension of the … Equity Income Fund, our clients are disappointed that it has become necessary for them to issue proceedings in order to reclaim their lost investments.
“We are confident, however, that this will mark an important step in their fight for redress. With so many affected by this issue, we encourage investors who have not signed up to do so.”
A spokesperson for Link said it planned on “vigorously defending” itself once served with the case, and that Link “considers that it has acted at all times in accordance with applicable rules, as well as in the best interests of all investors, and it will continue to do so”.
The first court hearing for Harcus Parker’s case is expected in September, though a trial may not take place until at least 2024.
The City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, launched its own investigation into the fund’s collapse but has yet to publish its findings.
Woodford, who received dividends worth millions of pounds from the firm shortly before its collapse, used an interview in the Sunday Telegraph last year to issue a public apology over its failure. He has since launched a new venture advising professional investors rather than retail customers.
Woodford’s fall from grace followed a spectacular career in which he had become one of Britain’s most prominent fund managers, earning the moniker “the oracle of Oxford” after 25 years at Invesco Perpetual. Strong returns garnered him a significant following among retail investors and savers, allowing him to start his own investment business in 2014, with assets worth £16bn under his control by 2017.