Stephen Ratcliffe among those who may be held liable for £20.8m black hole in fund

Former officers of the Construction Confederation, including Stephen Ratcliffe and Sir Martin Laing, may be held personally liable for the £20.8m black hole in the body’s pension fund.

The news follows the revelation of the deficit in October, which could mean that about 500 staff could lose up to 70% of their pensions.

Zolfo Cooper, which is acting as liquidator for the confederation after it was wound up in December, initially said it would investigate former member bodies. This week it emerged that the behaviour of individual officers would also be scrutinised.

A source close to the process said: “The liquidator is investigating the officers because it wants to know why the Construction Confederation was not giving back funds to meet its debts. Everyone with a possible liability will be looked at. Officers should have done what they could to get the money from the member organisations.”

In addition to Ratcliffe, the former chief executive of the organisation, and Laing, the former chair of John Laing, previous officers include Paul Shepherd, former chair of Shepherd Construction, and James Wates, the current deputy chair of Wates.

It is something companies will seriously consider

Nicholas Heaton, Lovells

The source added: “If they failed to fulfil their obligations by not trying their hardest to make sure member organisations plugged the debts, they could be held accountable.”

Meanwhile, the source added that the Pensions Regulator, which supervises the administration of pension schemes in the UK, could take separate action to hold officers liable if there is evidence that they misled the trustees over the extent of the debts.

The black hole has edged up from £20.5m last year, owing to poor returns on investments and despite the sale of the organisation’s Westminster property, which fetched about £4m at the end of 2009.

One former Construction Confederation employee said: “Questions need to be answered. We need to know how it was allowed to get into this state without a loud warning being sounded.”