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Focusplay Retirement Benefits Scheme - Regulatory intervention report

Regulatory intervention report issued under section 89 of the Pensions Act 2004 in relation to Roger Bessent and the Focusplay Retirement Benefits Scheme.

Published: 24 March 2021

Case summary

Roger Bessent, a Preston-based accountant and director of the business advisory firm Gleeson Bessent (Accountants and Business Advisers) Limited, was given a 35-month prison sentence and ordered to pay back over £233,000 of scheme members’ savings following a successful criminal prosecution by The Pensions Regulator (TPR). Bessent pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of his position as trustee of the Focusplay Retirement Benefits Scheme (FRBS), and making prohibited employer-related investments.


In August 2016 we opened our investigation into Bessent’s activities as a trustee, following a report from a whistleblower who had concerns about his company’s governance of FRBS. At the time, Bessent, who was registered with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), was a director of two trustee-related companies - Gleeson Bessent Trustees Limited (GBT) and Gleeson Bessent Trustee Services Limited (GBTS). The former company, GBT, was the trustee of FRBS and of the P.S.P. Retirement Benefit Scheme (PSP).

The Insolvency Service was running a parallel investigation into the activities of GBT and GBTS, and we agreed to support its investigation throughout the autumn of that year. By March 2017, the High Court in Manchester made winding-up orders in respect of GBT and GBTS, and the Official Receiver was appointed, thereby becoming the trustee to both FRBS and PSP pension schemes. The Official Receiver made an application to TPR to appoint an independent trustee and, in May 2017, we appointed Dalriada Trustees Limited to both schemes.

Throughout the spring of 2017 we continued our investigation into Bessent’s actions as a trustee, working closely with the ACCA. The ACCA suspended Bessent’s membership pending a disciplinary hearing and, on 4 September 2018, he was excluded from ACCA membership.

Regulatory action

During the summer of 2017 we prepared a Warning Notice to ask the Determinations Panel to prohibit Bessent from being a pension scheme trustee. We simultaneously began negotiations with Bessent to accept the prohibition voluntarily by agreement.

At the same time, the Insolvency Service prepared a case to seek Bessent’s disqualification from acting as a company director, under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 (CDDA).

In November 2017 Bessent entered an undertaking for disqualification until November 2026. His associates, who acted as directors of GBT and/or GBTS (his son Matthew Bessent, Neil O’Donnell and Tracy Park) also entered disqualification undertakings, although for shorter periods. As a result of their disqualification under the CDDA, Bessent and his associates were disqualified from being a trustee for the period of their CDDA disqualification[1]. We concluded that separate prohibition proceedings were no longer necessary, so we did not pursue this further.

Copies of trustee minutes obtained during the Insolvency Service’s investigation showed that Bessent had made loans from FRBS to himself and associated businesses. Employer related loans are a criminal offence and are prohibited under regulations.

In May 2018, we conducted interviews under caution (under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) with Roger Bessent, his wife, Margaret Bessent, and his associates. From these interviews we learned that Roger Bessent had caused the pension scheme to make at least five loans to companies that he was associated with. He had created minutes of trustee meetings which appeared to approve the making of the loans as scheme investments, and these minutes recorded his fellow trustee directors as being present at the meetings whereas the reality was that they were not. We concluded that the evidence showed that Bessent had abused his position as trustee to transfer FRBS funds for his own benefit and had created false scheme documents in an attempt to conceal his criminal conduct. Therefore, in December 2018, we began criminal proceedings against Bessent.


On 27 February 2019 at Preston Crown Court, Bessent pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud and two counts of making employer-related investments. In a separate indictment brought by the Insolvency Service and conjoined with our case, Bessent also pleaded guilty to acting as a director of a limited company while disqualified.

Bessent was sentenced to a term of 35 months’ imprisonment for fraud by abuse of position, four months for making prohibited employer related investments (to be served concurrently), and four months for acting as a director while disqualified to be served consecutively - a total of 39 months in prison.

Shortly after the sentence was handed down, we began confiscation proceedings against Bessent under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which led to Preston Crown Court making a confiscation order for £274,733 on 28 October 2020. Of this, £233,317 is to be returned in compensation to the scheme. This represents the money he took from the scheme, minus the amounts he had already repaid, uprated for inflation.

Our approach

We will work with other regulators and law enforcement partners to carry out our statutory duties and protect savers, as we did in this case with the Insolvency Service and the ACCA. Where we are considering using our powers and another agency has taken action with a broadly similar effect, we may pause or stop our own regulatory action if we think that justice will be best achieved through their remit, and taking into account the best use of public money. In this case, the disqualification of Bessent and his associates under the CDDA had broadly the same effect as their prohibition under pensions legislation would have had. This meant it was no longer necessary or proportionate to pursue separate prohibition proceedings.

Trustees must meet the highest standards of integrity when looking after the savings of pension scheme members, who trust them to protect and invest their money. We will bring the full force of the law against people who dishonestly abuse that position of trust, against the interests of savers and for their own benefit.

Timeline of events

  • August 2016 – TPR opens its investigation to deal with concerns raised about Bessent, GBT and GBTS.
  • September 2016 – TPR agrees a working arrangement with the Insolvency Service for sharing information on areas of overlapping interests in relation to Bessent and his activities as a trustee and as a director, to the extent permitted by disclosure restrictions contained in the Companies Act 1985 and the Pensions Act 2004.
  • March 2017 – The High Court in Manchester orders the compulsory wind up of GBT and GBTS on the grounds of it no longer being in the public’s interest for them to continue to trade.
  • May 2017 – Dalriada Trustees Limited is appointed by TPR as trustee to FRBS and PSP.
  • June 2017 – TPR seeks Bessent’s agreement to his prohibition.
  • July 2017 – A disciplinary committee of the ACCA suspends Bessent’s membership and practising certificate for 18 months.
  • November 2017 – Bessent agrees his disqualification as a director under the CDDA until 2026. His associates Tracy Park, Matthew Bessent and Neil O’Donnell, agree similar undertakings for shorter periods.
  • February 2018 – TPR begins a criminal investigation into employer-related loans using FRBS’ resources made by Bessent and his fellow directors of GBT.
  • May 2018 – TPR holds voluntary interviews under caution with Roger Bessent, Margaret Bessent, Tracy Park, Matthew Bessent and Neil O’Donnell.
  • December 2018 – TPR institutes criminal proceedings against Bessent for charges of fraud by abuse of position and the making of prohibited employer-related loans. The Insolvency Service institutes criminal proceedings against Bessent for carrying on the duties of a company director while he was disqualified. TPR and the Insolvency Service agree that the insolvency case can be conjoined and progressed through court together.
  • 30 January 2019 – Case is committed from Preston Magistrates’ Court to Preston Crown Court. 
  • 27 February 2019 – At the plea and trial preparation hearing, Bessent pleads guilty to five counts of fraud by abuse of position, two counts of making prohibited employer- related loans and one count of acting as a director while disqualified.
  • 29 March 2019 – Bessent is sentenced to a total of 39 months’ imprisonment.
  • April 2019 – Proceeds of Crime confiscation proceedings initiated by TPR.
  • January 2020 – Restraint Order granted at Preston Crown Court against Roger Bessent, Margaret Bessent, Matthew Bessent and Alice Ormond (née Bessent).
  • 28 October 2020 – Confiscation Order made by Preston Crown Court in the sum of £274,733 of which £233,317 is to be returned in compensation to the scheme.


[1] When a person is disqualified from being a company director under the CDDA they are also disqualified from acting as a trustee by virtue of s29(1)(f) of the Pensions Act 1995.

Disqualification has broadly the same net effect as prohibition (ie that person must not act as a trustee during the period of disqualification). The main differences between prohibition and disqualification are that:

(i)  a disqualified person’s details are not recorded on the register of prohibited trustees that TPR is required to keep, and
(ii) the period of disqualification from being able to act as a trustee expires when the disqualification under the CDDA expires.