Patisserie Valerie store in 2019

Source: Getty Images

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has brought fraud charges against four individuals, including a former director, relating to the collapse of bakery chain Patisserie Valerie.

After a five-year investigation code named Operation Venom, the SFO has charged Christopher Marsh, who was chief financial officer of Patisserie Holdings Plc for 12 years, his wife, accountant Louise Marsh, as well as former financial controller Pritesh Mistry and financial consultant Nileshkumar Lad.

The suspects have been charged with conspiring to inflate the cash in Patisserie Holdings’ balance sheets and annual reports from 2015 to 2018, including by providing false documentation to the company’s auditors. During this time, the company also reported holding £28 million in accounts, yet concealed £10 million in debts from its investors and creditors.

The defendants are summoned to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 10 October 2023 to hear the charges against them.

Operation Venom kicked off in October 2018, shortly after Patisserie Valerie owner Patisserie Holdings launched an investigation into what was described as serious accounting irregularities.

In 2018, the business – which also operated brands including Druckers, Philpotts, and Baker & Spice – revealed it would not be able to continue to trade in its current form without an immediate cash injection. In January 2019, it entered administration, closing 70 stores and causing the loss of over 900 jobs across the country.

“Patisserie Valerie’s abrupt collapse rocked our high streets, leaving boarded-up shops, devastating job losses, and significant investor losses in its wake. Today is a step forward in getting to the bottom of this scandal,” said SFO director Lisa Osofsky.

Patisserie Valerie was purchased by private equity firm Causeway Capital in 2019 and later merged with Causeway’s Baker & Baristas business. As of the end of 2022, there were 29 Patisserie Valerie sites in operation and 59 Bakers & Baristas.

Accounting firm Grant Thornton was fined £2.3m in 2021 over the audits of Patisserie Holdings’ accounts carried out for the financial years ended 30 September 2015, 2016, and 2017.