Serious Fraud Office targets known associates of John Aviss after he loses High Court battle with Artisan
Detectives from the Serious Fraud Office and Cleveland police have begun a second wave of interviews with people connected to the collapse of Hertfordshire contractor Bickerton Construction in December 2001.

The move came after Artisan, the previous owner of Bickerton, won a High Court battle against John Aviss, the man who bought it.

Aviss was one of seven men arrested in a series of dawn raids made by Serious Fraud Office detectives in December last year. He is currently on police bail.

Building understands that police have begun interviewing associates of Aviss – the latest twist in a two-and-a-half year joint investigation between the Serious Fraud Office and Cleveland police.

A source close to the investigation said the police had closely examined the High Court civil action between Artisan and Aviss.

The source said: "The bail period of the seven men arrested in December is up at the end of May and the police have now begun a second wave of interviews as the investigation reaches its endgame."

The collapse of Bickerton is part of a wider investigation into the failure of M&E group Mea Projects, which was also owned by Aviss.

The High Court found last Friday in favour of Artisan. The defeat is likely to cost Aviss more than £1m.

Artisan and Aviss filed writs against each other in the High Court in 2002. Artisan sued Aviss and his holding company Infiniteland for £1.2m over an alleged breach of the sale agreement of Bickerton to Aviss.

Aviss counterclaimed that the Bickerton accounts were false and misleading at the time of the sale. Aviss claimed damages for misrepresentation and £2.3m in money owed as a result of the alleged overvaluation of Bickerton and two other firms bought in the same transaction.

However, in a statement last Friday, Artisan said: "In a reasoned judgment, it has been found that claims against Artisan fail. Artisan's counterclaim for deferred consideration on the sale of Bickerton, amounting to £502,000, is successful."

Further details of the successful writ or the High Court judgment were not available at the time of going to press.

The statement added that there would be a hearing in due course at which the order would be made, together with representations as regards costs and interest.

It is understood that Aviss is considering an appeal.

Aviss was arrested in December in a dawn raid at his home in Swanley, Kent. One of the six others arrested was Bill Berry, whom Aviss employed as a consultant to help him acquire the Bickerton business.

Building does not know the names of the other people detained, nor the identities those who have been questioned over the past couple of weeks.

‘We are very, very angry’: The creditors’ response

Jonathan Forbes Brown, managing director of Essex-based Imperial Roofing, who also sits on the Bickerton creditors’ committee, told Building that he was bitterly disappointed by the way the contractor’s collapse had been handled by the government. He said: “The DTI is so underfunded that its investigations are running at a snail’s pace. As a result, creditors haven’t received any of the £5m we are owed from the collapse of Bickerton. We are very, very angry and bitterly disappointed.” Forbes Brown added that the creditors had employed a City lawyer to pursue Artisan for money owed from the Bickerton collapse but that “the High Court civil hearing is a blow to that course of action”.