Comet shelves picked bare by Christmas shoppers as remaining stores prepare to close their doors today
Bargain hunters queued outside Comet stores on the last day of tradingDejected staff were seen dismantling display cases and taking posters downStore accounts have insufficient funds to cover staff redundancy payments
HM Revenue & Customs stands to lose 26.1million in uncollected taxComet's demise will now be investigated by the Insolvency Service
20:44 GMT, 18 December 2012
Bargain hunters looking for Christmas presents have been stripping shelves bare at doomed Comet stores today – the High Street giant's last day of in-store trading.
Shoppers queued outside one of the stricken retailer's shops in Leicester waiting for doors to open this morning as the company called time on 79 years of sales.
Shelves were left empty this afternoon as the store offered discounts on remaining stock and dejected workers were seen dismantling display units and taking down sale posters.
The final store closures come after Comet became the latest big name casualty of the recession, slipping into administration last month.
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It's over: A dejected employee sits on empty shelves at a Comet store as the shop fittings are dismantled ready for final closing
Sold out: The empty Comet store in Greenwich at the last day of trading
Slim pickings: Customers literally take the final products off the shelves at Comet in Greenwich today
Waiting in line: Shoppers queue outside this Comet store in Leicester this morning looking for last minute bargains
Final countdown: 'Everything must go' signs are torn down as this store in Solihull ran out of stock
Sad: The Comet store in Solihull lies empty this afternoon
Today's closures have left the taxpayer with a bill of nearly 50million despite the private equity firm, which
bought the electrical retailer for a nominal fee of 2 less than a year
ago, being likely to walk away with almost exactly same amount – 49.7million –
according to a report by administrator Deloitte.
circumstances surrounding the company's demise will now be investigated
by the Insolvency Service's investigations department it was announced
Following its collapse, Comet’s accounts show it has insufficient funds to cover redundancy payments to its 6,600 staff with the Government now responsible for paying staff their last pay cheque.
And a further 26.1million is lost in tax to HM Revenue & Customs, which is an unsecured creditor and receives nothing.
The Government is therefore nursing a combined 49.1million loss.
The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the company are to be examined by the investigation's branch of the Insolvency Service which will cover the run-up to administration and Comet’s takeover by a private equity-backed investment vehicle in February.
Empty: Everything has already gone from the Greenwich Comet store
Desolate: A worker wheels electrical goods across an empty shop floor at a Comet store in Leicester
Liquidation: A shopper eyes up a late Christmas present at Comet in Leicester
It is understood that the investigation is a matter of course and will check that the processes behind the firm's fall into administration was handled correctly.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said today: 'We can confirm that the Insolvency Service has launched a fact finding inquiry under section 447 of the Companies Act into Comet Group Ltd.
'The purpose of the inquiry is to investigate the circumstances surrounding its insolvency and to establish whether further action is required.
'We are not in a position to comment further at this stage. To do so could prejudice the outcome of the investigation and any future action.
Final preparations: Workings at the Solihull branch take down sale posters
Bare: The shelves in Greenwich this afternoon
Mess: Products lie strewn on the shelves at Comet in Greenwich as customers search for bargains
'The Department for Business is already reviewing the overall insolvency regulatory framework, to see whether it remains fit for purpose in today’s environment.'
The Government's 50million loss on behalf of Comet comes despite the fact that there still assets worth almost the same amount in
the business, but under the terms of the administration they belong to
OpCapita, the controversial private equity firm run by founder Henry
multi-millionaire American, who is married to Canadian-born pop singer
Stacey Jackson, managed to put his firm at the front of the queue of
creditors after taking over the chain of 240 stores eleven months ago.
Drowning sorrows: This sign was taped in the window of a branch of the electrical retailer Comet in Bristol today
is a legal practice used by investment firms to ensure they lose as
little cash as possible when they buy troubled businesses and the rescue
The firm received a 50 million dowry from Kesa as part of the acquisition of the chain and continues to own Comet’s warranties business, which is not in administration.
The vehicle was also repaid a 9.5 million loan prior to the collapse.
Meanwhile, the thousands of ordinary
customers who still own 4.7million-worth of unused gift cards and
vouchers remain on the list of unsecured creditors.
Those who paid by credit or debit card will be protected by their card companies, but the rest will get little or nothing back.
City sources say it is unclear whether OpCapita will make a net profit from the debacle.
Deloitte shows the company technically lost 95.7m with revenues
slumping by 200million in the year to April, it is impossible to work
out how much of this comes out of OpCapita’s own pockets.
It emerged that the company lost a
further 31 million in the subsequent five months as credit insurers
lost confidence and withdrew support for the business.
Much of the 145.4million owed by Comet when it went into administration will fall at the door of its banks and investors.
closure of the final group of 49 stores from the former 236-strong
estate comes seven weeks after Deloitte was appointed as administrator.
VIDEO Last minute bargain hunter lament the closure of Comet
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Closed: The shutters are coming down on the UK's last remaining Comet stores today. This one in Nottingham has already closed for the first time
Best buys: The last few items of stock have been brought to the front of the doomed store in Basildon, Essex
Fire sale: This Comet store in Reading, Berkshire, slashed prices of its remaining stock by up to 60 per cent off
Farewell: A shopper in York looks pleased with himself as he leaves the Comet store on the last day of trading
The collapse of the firm, which was founded in Hull in 1933 and employed 6,895 people, marks one of the biggest high street casualties since the demise of Woolworths in 2008.
Deloitte has failed to find a buyer for the company or any of its shops.
Comet was hit by weak high street trading conditions and fierce competition from online rivals.
Its suppliers could not find insurers willing to cover goods delivered should Comet default on its bills.
The environment for credit insurance became tough and was withdrawn forcing OpCapita to pay for all its stock upfront.
As the crucial Christmas period approached stock levels peaked, making it impossible for the firm to find the necessary cash to buy stock.
In particular, it was knocked by the lack of first-time home-buyers, who had been key customers for Comet.
Bargain hunter: A shopper leaves a Comet store with discounted items in Reading, southern England
Bargain hunters: Customers have headed to Comet stores across the country today hoping to bag a bargain as the chain holds a last minute fire sale before closing