Last updated at 9:04 AM on 24th May 2009
Pariah: Expenses mole John Wick is being disowned by business associates
The former SAS officer behind the disclosure of MPs' expenses claims has left a trail of bad debts from a succession of failed businesses, The Mail on Sunday has discovered.
Twice-married John Wick, who claims to be close friends with a number of Tory grandees whom he refuses to name, has said his decision to sell the sensational documents was motivated by a sense of public duty.
The 60-year-old has also said he wants to highlight MPs' 'ongoing abuse of taxpayers' money' - even though his own ventures have left thousands of pounds in unpaid tax.
His money problems suggest he badly needed the reputed £100,000 he was paid for the Commons expense claims, which were originally touted to newspapers - not including The Mail on Sunday - for up to £350,000.
Our investigation has revealed that:
- Mr Wick has left a string of 16 collapsed businesses behind him, with debts totalling more than £7million.
- His failed business ventures have left former military comrades tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket.
A former Metropolitan Police Commissioner who briefly served on the board of one of Mr Wick's companies has distanced himself from the businessman, calling him a 'swashbuckling sort of a man' whom he did not trust.
The debts Mr Wick left include a string of unpaid bills, such as £34.56 from his milkman, £195.61 for a water cooler - and £35 from the Shangri-La guest house in Whitley Bay.
But Mr Wick has a reputation for 'phoenixing' - a term used when businesses collapse and then start up again under a new name within weeks.
He set up his current firm, ISSL, a small City-based private security business, shortly after he was discharged from an IVA, a legal device designed to stave off bankruptcy, in June 2007.
The IVA - individual voluntary arrangement - meant he had been able to continue in business while paying his creditors a proportion of his debts over a five-year period.
Mr Wick spent last week trying to reassure business contacts that his role as the key mole behind the release of MPs' expenses, as disclosed by The Mail on Sunday, would not damage their commercial activities.
ISSL is involved in insuring against kidnap and ransom and in providing cover for ship owners facing the threat of piracy.
Mr Wicks, a former SAS Major, told one contact, a publicity-shy insurance broker at Lloyd's of London, that the expenses affair would 'blow over soon'.
A succession of Mr Wick's firms have built up large debts before being forced into liquidation or referred to the official receiver, and then reopened under a slightly different name, often using the same premises and the same telephone numbers.
According to Companies House, Mr Wick has had 16 businesses dissolved since he set up his first company after leaving the Army in the mid-Eighties.
In 2006 four firms he ran were wound up with combined debts of nearly £5million. The biggest debtor was International Security Management Company, which owed £1.9million, including unpaid hotel bills, debts for computer equipment, the bill from his milkman and another £41.10 for 'fresh ground coffee'.
One of his business partners, Brian Wilde, who served with him in the Parachute Regiment, lost £47,000 which he hoped to use to fund his retirement. Another former military man, ex-Navy officer John Pitt, lost £90,000.
In 2008, another of Wick's companies, ISMG Ltd, was wound up with £375,000 debts. In February this year Intelligence and Security Solutions was wound up in a deal with creditors who were owed £218,000. In the same month ISS Group was shut down owing £134,000.
Previous Wick companies have suffered a similar fate. In 2001, WFE (UK) Ltd, a firm specialising in protecting international freight, was wound up by the courts with £1.09million debts.
'Upset': Mr Wick's ex-wife Penny is said to want to distance herself and their daughters from his exploits
Another firm left a further catalogue of unpaid bills with guest houses and hotels, including the Coach and Horses in Hexham (£363.95), the Grosvenor Hotel, Jesmond, Newcastle (£50), and the Shangri-La Guest House in Whitley Bay (£35).
Even a firm set up by Mr Wick and his first wife Penny to renovate houses in the Nineties made losses of £100,000 in its last year of trading.
But last week, despite the continuing furore over MPs' expenses, Mr Wick was still doing business with big insurance companies, operating from the same serviced office used by some of his previous collapsed firms, with the same phone number.
At a meeting with worried insurance underwriter Guy Northam in a coffee bar near Lloyd's of London last week, Mr Wick tried to emphasise that his revelations were in the public interest and 'would not damage their business'.
Speaking openly in front of other customers at the cafe, he said: 'I think this will go away soon but I don't think it can damage us. We did it for the right reasons.'
In response to questions from Mr Northam, Mr Wick said the money he had made selling the details of MPs' expenses, reputed to be £100,000, was needed to 'cover possible legal bills'.
There has been speculation that the disclosures were politically motivated as they have been particularly damaging to Labour, sparking the suspension of several Government Ministers and causing Commons Speaker Michael Martin to resign.
Mr Wick's second wife, Fiona Ancliffe, is a senior partner in Brunswick, the leading public affairs firm, and had previously worked for senior Tory MPs at Westminster.
He is an associate of Sir Brian Goswell, a senior Tory backer who was close to Margaret Thatcher, and he is also an ex-member of the private Carlton Club for Tory grandees.
Mr Wick and Ms Ancliffe were divorced seven years ago, with Mr Wick then moving into a house with a 25-year-old 'blonde researcher' from his firm. The woman, who was half his age, became a director and shareholder of several of his firms.
Mr Wick told Mr Northam that as a Tory supporter he had been 'disappointed' by some of the revelations about politicians from the party.
He added that the 'unfortunate' revelation Tory MP Sir Peter Viggers had paid for a 'duck island' using public money 'was not funny' and 'shows the party in a very bad light'.
Mr Wick went into business after his military career was curtailed by a training injury that left him with one leg shorter than the other.
He joined the Army in 1975 and graduated from Sandhurst. His first posting was with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, where contemporaries say he was 'disappointed' to be given command of the regiment's Mobile Bath Unit that provided wash facilities for troops in the field.
No doubt looking for a more exciting role, Mr Wick transferred to the Parachute Regiment and was promoted to Acting Major. After a stint in Whitehall, he transferred again to join the elite ranks of the SAS.
Several former business associates of Mr Wick mistakenly believed that he was involved in the SAS's audacious rescue of hostages at the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980, but he was not. Either shortly before or shortly after the siege, Mr Wick left the Army because of injuries.
Accounts of his injury vary. Some former colleagues say he was hurt in a 'halo jump' - when a parachutist opens his chute at a low altitude after a long free-fall. Others say he was undergoing 'building entry drill' when he fell from a high ladder.
Several of Mr Wick's business associates now seem keen to distance themselves from the affair.
Multi-millionaire underwriter Rupert Villers, one of the most powerful figures in the London insurance market, said he was no longer involved with Mr Wick. A spokeswoman for his firm Aspen said: 'Mr Villers' association with John Wick is related to a previous personal business relationship, which does not relate to his current role at Aspen.'
Mr Wick tried to use two former Metropolitan Police Commissioners, Lord Imbert and Sir David McNee, as 'referees' as he attempted to explain his role in the expenses affair. He said in an interview yesterday that 'several former commissioners of the Metropolitan Police have served on the board of my companies'.
But Lord Imbert, who was a director of one of Mr Wick's firms in the Nineties, said he was 'unhappy' his name was being used.
He told The Mail on Sunday: 'I am very unhappy he is using me in this way, trying to give himself credibility.
'I worked for him for a short time but left because I felt very uncomfortable about the way he did business. He was a swashbuckling sort of man who told people what they wanted to hear, but failed to deliver.
'He wanted my name on his letterhead but I did not like the way he did business. I did not trust him.'
Friends of Mr Wick's first wife, Penny, suggested she, too, wanted to distance herself and their two daughters from her ex-husband's exploits.
She declined to comment from the home in Hereford she once shared with Mr Wick, but sources said: 'I understand she is upset that this has brought a lot of unwanted attention upon her and her whole family. John has nothing to lose and everything to gain, but his daughters do not.'
Henry Gewanter, the American-born publicist who helped Mr Wick market the expenses material, refused to answer detailed questions about Mr Wick's business affairs.
He said: 'Mr Wick has nothing to say to you. What he will say is he is proud of his service to the country both in his military career and in his recent actions in bringing Parliament to public scrutiny.'