ANGRY protesters gathered outside Farepak to demand their money back during an emotional five-hour stand-off.

The West Swindon firm has gone into liquidation, leaving hundreds of people out of pocket and with no prospect of getting their Christmas orders.

But the big question on everyone's lips is why?' An Adver investigation has revealed that the now defunct hamper firm has gone bust, despite making a £1.2m profit just 18 months ago.

Financial statements obtained from Companies House show profits of £1.283m for the year ending April 28, 2005. And Swindon residents who say they have been cheated out of their money said they were prepared to do whatever it takes to give their children the Christmas they deserve.

Leigh Reedman, 36, of Gorse Hill, who has two children, three step-children and a step granddaughter, has lost £1,000 in vouchers.

For more than five hours yesterday around 30 people gathered outside Farepak's base on the Westmead trading estate all wanting answers.

Ms Reedman and her partner Dave Jenkins, 40, who runs a cleaning company, parked their 4x4 car across the main gates, along with the cars of three other protesters. The couple wanted to stop the lorries carrying pallet loads of Christmas goodies from leaving Farepak's depot.

Swindon police were at the scene and stopped a number of protesters from running through the gates as they opened to let lorries in and out. As the lorries passed by protesters heckled drivers and asked them not to go inside.

A riot van arrived and Sgt Nick John told the crowd anyone who entered Farepak's yard would be arrested.

Ms Reedman was finally allowed inside the bolted gates to talk to the administrators yesterday afternoon.

She emerged 30 minutes later looking happier than she did before she went in.

"I wanted to know why this has happened and why the company has been allowed to continue taking money from people all this time when they obviously knew something was going wrong.

"I've been told that all the money being collected will now go into a big pot and the lorries we have seen today are fulfilling another contract which means some money will be put into this pot. I've been told we will get a percentage of our money back but not all of it and not before Christmas."

But Ms Reedman's children say they will not blame her if they don't get any presents this year.

Her stepson, Aaron Jenkins, 11, a Dorcan Technology College pupil, said: "We'll just have to go without this year.

"If our parents haven't got the money then we can't do anything about it.

"What I really wanted was a punch bag with boxing gloves but what I really want now is for all the parents to get their money back."

Katrina Large, 39, a cleaner of Penhill has lost £1,000.

The mum-of-two said: "For so many people Farepak has been a lifeline because it means we don't have to get into debt at Christmas so we want to know why we all might get into debt now trying to make this Christmas like any other."

Richard Coxhead, 46, of Wootton Bassett who is disabled has lost £135.

"I can't work because I'm disabled after a car accident so there's no way I can get this money back now."

Kerry Thomas, 31, a single mum of Penhill, who has lost £230, said: "If I was braver I would lay down and block these lorries myself until someone in a suit comes out to speak to us. All we want is answers and we're not getting them from anyone."

It is not just bad news for customers and agents as employees are also set to suffer as a result of the company going out of business.

Last year Farepak employed 137 staff in administration to production and sales positions.

Swindon MPs are offering their help to the victims.

South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove, said: "Many of the families hit by this are the least able to afford it. I am calling on the supermarket giants to do what they can to put something back on the table and around the Christmas tree for them."

North Swindon MP, Michael Wills, said: "I have already spoken to the secretary of state for trade and transport to ask what can be done to help these people."

None of the six directors of Farepak have commented on the firm's liquidation.

Statement from administrators

SHAGUN Dubey and Martha Thompson, business restructuring partners at BDO Stoy Hayward LLP, were appointed as joint administrators at 4.30pm on Friday, October 13, over Farepak Food and Gifts Ltd.

FFG is part of European Home Retail PLC which itself is in administration.

They said: "BDO Stoy Hayward is not dealing with the administration of the parent company and had had very little involvement with the company prior to the joint administrators' appointment.

"Amongst other activities FFG operates a Christmas voucher and hamper club.

"People contribute to the club on a regular basis throughout the year and would normally expect to receive their vouchers at this time and hampers towards the end of the year.

"We estimate that there are in excess of 25,000 agents servicing over 100,000 customers.

"Whilst the company can identify all of its agents the company cannot determine exact customer numbers.

"The company deals with its customers via its agents and therefore not all customer details are recorded in the company database.

"In many cases the customer information is retained by agents.

"Unfortunately, as a result of the failure of FFG and its parent company, FFG's customers will not receive their vouchers or hampers.

"Furthermore the initial facts and figures provided by the directors to the administrators indicate that FFG customers will not receive a refund of the payments they have made other than perhaps a small dividend.

"It is too early to tell the ultimate outcome will be for the creditors as the administrators have only just taken control of the company.

"In due course, as part of their duties, the administrators will investigate the circumstances in more detail and report to those who owed money."

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For more personal accounts of the Farepak fiasco, Trading Standards' advice and more, see today's Swindon Advertiser.

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