Former owner of failed regional contractor is arrested, along with six others, by Serious Fraud Office
Serious Fraud Office detectives investigating the collapse of regional contractor Bickerton have arrested businessman John Aviss, its former owner, in a dawn raid. Six other men were held in separate arrests.

The swoop took place on Tuesday morning at Aviss' home in Swanley, Kent. It is the latest twist in a two-year joint investigation between the Serious Fraud Office and the Cleveland Police fraud squad.

Among the six others held is Bill Berry, whom Aviss employed as a consultant to help him acquire the Bickerton business. Building does not know the names of the rest of those detained.

All of the men were interviewed and later released on police bail.

A source close to the investigation said the men had been arrested in connection with the collapse of Bickerton Construction, which is itself part of a wider investigation into the failure of M&E group Mea Projects, which was also owned by Aviss.

Building revealed in January 2002 that the SFO had turned its attention to Bickerton.

The contractor was placed into liquidation after a creditors' meeting at the Holiday Inn on Welbeck Street, London, on 17 January 2002.

The arrest was the culmination of a two-year investigation

The meeting revealed that the contractor owed unsecured creditors about £4.5m, including debts to firms such as John Cooper Construction, Betgate Structures and Dudley Bower Services.

It also emerged from the meeting that almost £1m in shares of property group Gryphon Estates, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bickerton, was transferred to Driver Contracting, a shell company set up for that purpose.

John Aviss acquired Bickerton, along with sister contractor Driver Construction (a separate firm from Driver Contracting) in June 2001 from the Artisan Group.

This acquisition is the subject of a High Court battle in London this week. Both Aviss and Artisan filed writs in the High Court in 2002. Artisan is suing Aviss (and holding company Infiniteland) for £1.2m over an alleged breach of the Bickerton sale agreement.

Aviss is suing Artisan, claiming that Bickerton's accounts were false and misleading at the time of the sale.