Construction group Artisan has hit back at a creditors' report into collapsed regional contractor Bickerton Construction.
A statement from Artisan chairman Stephen Dean stressed that his firm's disposal of Bickerton last year was conducted using proper due diligence procedures.

Dean said pre-sale transactions mentioned in the creditors' report, including a management charge of £1.4m taken out of the firm before it was sold, had been fully disclosed to new owner John Aviss at the time of the sale.

Bickerton collapsed at the end of last year, owing unsecured creditors £4.2m and is now the subject of a Serious Fraud Office inquiry.

The statement said: "The transactions were largely at the behest of the purchaser. Any suggestion of sudden accounting information coming to light is quite wrong. The reporting of individual items has been taken out of context of the overall transaction."

Dean's defence came as more details emerged of the £2.8m deal.

Aviss, who bought Bickerton using his Infiniteland holding company, only paid £2.3m in cash. The remaining £500,000 took the form of a deferred secured loan note.

Any suggestion of sudden accounting information coming to light is quite wrong

Statement by Stephen Dean, Artisan chairman

This loan was secured against shares in another of Aviss' businesses, a pet products firm called Zoa Corporation that was listed on the alternative investment market. Zoa went into receivership in August 2001.

Artisan had expressed interest in investing in Zoa last year. In a letter to the Company Announcements Offices of the stock exchange in August 2001, Zoa asked Barclays Bank to appoint a receiver for its principal operating subsidiary Woodpecker Pet Products.

Aviss said in the letter that the board had entered into discussions with a "possible white knight". It said the person concerned represented another AIM-listed company, and had agreed to inject funds into the company, but the deal was unacceptable to the bank. The letter confirms that Dean and Artisan had attempted the rescue bid.

It has also emerged that Dean contacted the DTI in July 2001 to investigate the relationship between consultant Bill Berry, a disqualified director who was hired by Infiniteland to work on the Bickerton purchase, and Aviss.