Police investigate dissolved M&E firm Mea Corporation after St Albans contractor Bickerton collapses.
The Serious Fraud Office is investigating the activities of a sister firm of collapsed regional contractor Bickerton Construction.

John Aviss, whose firm Infiniteland bought Bickerton last May, is facing a probe into another of his firms, mechanical and electrical engineer the Mea Corporation. The M&E contractor, which included Rotrax and CJ Bartley, was liquidated in August 2001, a year after Aviss bought them.

A Bickerton creditors meeting is due to be held on 17 January. John Aviss acquired Bickerton, which has a turnover of £21m, as part of a £2.8m deal last year from construction group Artisan. The deal also included contractor Driver Construction.

Artisan chairman Stephen Dean, who sold Bickerton to Aviss, said: "It's very sad that a decent business like Bickerton which has been around for more than 70 years should end like this."

In its investigation into Mea Corporation, the SFO is working with Cleveland police. Cleveland fraud squad inspector Bill Matthews confirmed that his division was looking into the company's activities.

Matthews told Building: "It is a serious matter and a joint investigation will take place between Cleveland police and the SFO."

The DTI has also been investigating a consultant employed by Aviss after a complaint from the former owner of Rotrax.

Former Rotrax joint managing director Ian Rennison filed a complaint to the DTI investigations unit last year alleging that John Aviss was employing disqualified director William Berry.

Rennison said that William Berry was acting as a consultant to John Aviss.

It is understood that at least one former director of Bickerton Construction has been questioned by the DTI. Cleveland police said they would look at evidence from the DTI investigation.

It’s very sad that a decent business like Bickerton should end like this

Stephen Dean, chairman, Artisan (former owner of Bickerton)

There was no answer from John Aviss' home telephone when Building tried to contact him earlier this week.

This week, Driver Construction was still in operation. Marketing manager Jackie Blake said the firm was still trading and would not fall into the same plight as Bickerton.

Driver Construction financial director, Jonathan Bradley-Hoare, who was also company secretary of Mea Corporation, confirmed he was aware of the investigations. He would not, however, be drawn on detail.

It is understood the Bickerton offices in St Albans are now empty. Only 25 of the 75 workforce are understood to be left at the firm, but are on extended Christmas leave.

Bickerton's collapse followed the departure of manager director Ray McAuley and his deputy Alan Vaux on 25 October. McAuley has now joined Morgan Sindall arm Bluestone as regional managing director at its Cambridge office.

Bickerton's troubles have shocked rival regional contractors. One said: "I was very surprised. We had come up against them and they didn't seem to be drastically underpricing jobs."

It is understood that Bickerton has now pulled out of several projects, including a £5m leisure centre in Kentish Town. The project, for Camden council, had £1m of lottery funding and it is understood that subcontractors have stopped work on the site.

The 72-year-old Bickerton was one of Hertfordshire's best-known family builders. It specialised in refurbishment in the leisure and education sectors.

A brief history of Mea Corporation

August 2000
John Aviss’ firm Mea Corporation acquires CJ Bartley and Rotrax.
January 2001
John Aviss changes Rotrax’s name to Mea Projects.
February 2001
Mea buys joinery part of EC Rippon Homes from its new owner, construction group Artisan.
June 2001
John Aviss sets up Infiniteland as a holding company to acquire Bickerton Construction, Driver Construction and Gryphon Estates from Artisan for £2.8m. During this time Ian Rennison, the former managing director of Rotrax, files a complaint to the DTI. Bartley managing director Simon Bartley resigns from CJ Bartley.
July 2001
CJ Bartley goes into voluntary liquidation.
August 2001
Mea Corporation goes into administrative receivership January 2002 Bickerton collapses. Serious Fraud Office investigations into Mea Corporation begin.