A search by Merseyside Police of developer Elliot Lawless’ home in December, shortly before his arrest on suspicions of fraud, was unlawful, the High Court has pronounced, and the police has agreed to settle the claim while continuing its investigation.
The ruling comes after the founder of Liverpool-based property developer Elliot Group last month secured a judicial review of his arrest and the police search of his home. Several of the company’s projects in Liverpool and Manchester remain in administration, and Lawless has pledged to “work with administrators to find best value for investors”.
Lawless was arrested on 18 December along with Nick Kavanagh, head of regeneration at Liverpool City Council on suspicions of fraud. Both were released on bail and no charges were brought, although a police investigation ensued.
At the time of the arrests, Merseyside Police seized around £300,000 from a property named Beetham Plaza that belongs to Lawless. The police was permitted to keep the assets while the investigation ensued.
The ruling this month upheld Elliot’s claim that the search of his property was unlawful, and the search warrants have been quashed by the High Court in London. Merseyside Police has agreed to settle the claim and pay Lawless’s legal costs. The court did not rule that his arrest was unlawful.
Lawless, who was released from police bail at the end of March, said in a statement this morning: “I am very pleased that the police quickly agreed to settle these proceedings. I have consistently denied any wrongdoing and the allegations made are baseless.
“Today’s agreed order is another major step towards bringing the investigation to a conclusion.”
A spokeswoman for Merseyside Police said: “[We] can confirm that, following an application for judicial review being issued by the High Court, the force sought independent legal advice, which concluded that there were technical difficulties in relation to three warrants executed at Beetham Plaza on 18 December 2019.
“The force has consented to quashing the warrants carried out at Beetham Plaza, and as a result the judicial review proceedings have been concluded by consent.
“However, Merseyside Police continue with their investigation, and retain the £337,342 and 10,442 euros cash seized as part of the investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act.” As part of the consent order, Lawless has agreed to Merseyside Police retaining copies of other exhibits seized when the warrants were executed.
Elliot said that his arrest “was prompted after Merseyside Police received a report from the chief executive of Liverpool City Council, Tony Reeves”.
A spokesman for the council said: “Liverpool City Council is continuing to co-operate with Mersey Police’s ongoing investigation.”
Elliot Group is or has been involved in around 20 residential developments across the North West, mainly in Liverpool.
Projects include the £170m redevelopment of Heap’s Rice Mill, which Elliot Group no longer has an interest in; the £100m Wolstenholme Square, the £100m Aura student scheme on the edge of the Knowledge Quarter, and the 1,000-apartment scheme Infinity on Leeds Street.
The developer also has a project in Greater Manchester – the 34-storey The Residence at Greengate in Salford. Construction stalled on these last three amid the police investigation.
Last month, Elliot called in administrators for three of the schemes – Aura, Infinity and The Residence – after failing to raise the necessary funding to keep them operational.
Investors claim to have hundreds of thousands of pounds tied up in the stalled schemes and are pressing to recover their monies.
Lawless said in his statement: “Having heard the claims made during this [judicial review] process, I feel the police have been misled.
“Hundreds of local workers lost their jobs as a result of the arrest and tens of millions of pounds of investors’ funds are now at risk.
“Two major sites blight Liverpool city centre and the loss of council tax revenue and New Homes Bonus for the council will run into millions. Factor in the reputational harm to Liverpool and you might reasonably conclude that this has not been the city’s finest hour.”
Lawless added that, prior to his arrest, he was in advanced discussions with several national and international funds to help finance the schemes’ delivery, “but they have since pulled out”.
“I shall continue to work with the administrators to see how we can secure best value for our investors,” he said.