The secretive owner of one of Britain’s oldest breweries has been fined after telling a pensions watchdog that its request for vital documents was ‘tiresome’.
Humphrey Smith, 73, the controversial owner of Samuel Smith Old Brewery, wrote back to pension’s regulator with a ‘deliberately inflammatory’, when asked for the crucial paperwork regarding the savings of 2,000 workers.
Samuel Smith Old Brewery, which was formed in 1758, had been told by the Pension Regulator (TPR) in 2015 to prove it was earning enough money to support the final salary pension schemes.
Insolent: Samuel Smith Old Brewery owner Humphrey Smith has been fined after telling a pensions watchdog that its request for vital documents was ‘tiresome’
But Smith, who is the hereditary ruler of the Yorkshire brewing empire and is rarely photographed, wrote back: ‘We are in receipt of your tiresome letter and we are not prepared to divulge the information to your organisation.’
In response the Regulator launched court proceedings accusing the company of neglecting or refusing to provide information and documents without a reasonable excuse in breach of Pensions Act 2004.
Smith was charged with the same offence on the basis that as owner and chairman of the company he consented or connived in failing to hand over the documents.
Both the company and Smith pleaded guilty to the offence at a hearing in May, and yesterday both were hit with fines totalling £26,750 and costs of £1,240 when they were sentenced at Brighton Magistrates’ Court.
Samuel Smith keeps costs down by only stocking own-brand drinks
Smith has run into controversy before, most recently in 2016 when he had a stand-off with residents of Tadcaster.
Locals had wanted to build a temporary bridge across a river, but Smith would not let them as he owned the land.
Samuel Smith Old Brewery owns a 300-strong chain of pubs across the country. It is known for its secretive business practices and has numerous registered businesses on Companies House meaning its sales and profits are not published under one entity. Smith, pictured above, is known for his eccentricity and reportedly rules his business ‘with an iron fist’.
He introduced a no-swearing policy at his establishments in 2017 and banned music more than a decade ago to avoid paying copyright fees.
The company prides itself on serving some of the cheapest beers in the country and keeps costs down by only stocking own-brand drinks.
Judge Teresa Szagun said the company had claimed it was a ‘small, independent, family-run brewery struggling in a declining industry’ and any fine would impact of its employees.
But she said they taken a ‘deliberately inflammatory’ tone with the TPR and twice failed to comply with a request for information.
She said the ‘The terse tone of the refusal puts the culpability at the highest level of intent.’
Nicola Parish of TPR said: ‘People who ignore our notices asking them to provide information should expect us to launch a criminal prosecution.’