LIQUIDATORS could pull the plug on Radio Hartlepool before the end of the year unless a last-gasp agreement can be made to pay off a £20,000 court bill.
The York Road-based station was taken to court in July by former advertising sales managers Donna Feeney and Sarah Sumner, who worked for Bad Girl Media, and sold advertising for the station between 2009 and 2010.
They took action after the station failed to pay them more than £10,000 owed for three months of outstanding work, and with legal fees and court costs adding to that total, station owner Hartlepool Community Broadcasting was ordered to pay within 28 days after a hearing at Teesside County Court, in Middlesbrough.
Legal wrangles have been going on since the summer, but the Mail has learned that liquidators in London have now been called in to try and come to an agreement which could save the community station.
Radio Hartlepool was ordered to pay £10,911 plus interest and the other side’s legal costs which District Judge Susan Spencer said would bring the final bill to nearer £20,000.
Station chiefs have made an offer to Bad Girl Media to pay £200 a month to clear the debt, but Mrs Feeney and Ms Sumner are holding out for a monthly payment of £1,000.
And after admitting it could not afford to shell out a four-figure sum to the sales girls on a monthly basis, the station could be off the air by the end of the year.
Panos Eliades, who works for Panos Eliades and Franklin liquidators in London, has been brought in to try and thrash out an agreement.
Mr Eliades said: “An offer has been made to Bad Girl Media to repay £200 a month, but the firm is asking for £1,000 a month.
“There is £11,000 owed following the court judgement, with costs and interest also be taken into consideration.
“In a nutshell, if the radio station has to pay £1,000 a month, then it will close down.
“That could happen within the next few weeks, certainly by the end of the year.
“Radio Hartlepool has no assets. The finances would not allow a repayment of that size, and we would have no choice but to liquidate the company. That repayment would make the company insolvent, and it is illegal for any firm to trade while insolvent.
“There are other creditors, which I cannot disclose, but Bad Girl Media is the main one. We have been asked to assess the situation, and in simple terms I would say to the former staff that it is a simple choice.
“Either accept the £200 a month, or get nothing. It really is that clear. If the company is liquidated, then none of the creditors would get anything.”
But Mrs Feeney insisted she and her business partner just want to get what they are owed.
She said; “It may seem we are being unreasonable, but at the end of the day all we are trying to do is get what we are owed, which a court of law said we should.
“We are talking about a lot of money, and this has dragged on far longer than it should have.
“All we want is a guarantee that we are going to get our money. The station has two years left on its licence, so if we take £200 a month for two years and then the station disappears, then who would pay us the rest of the money?
“I cannot accept that the station does not make enough money to repay us £1,000 a week. When we worked on behalf of them, we pulled in around £10,000 a month through advertising.
“All of the staff are volunteers so they don’t get paid, and I cannot see many overheads at the station.
“I think it is unfair to be portrayed as the people who could see the radio station wound up when all we are doing is trying to get what we are owed.”
James Anderson, volunteer director at the station, said: “We have made an offer to the company on several occasions, but as yet we have not received any bank details to transfer money to them.
“If we do well over the next few months, then maybe we could be closer to accommodating what they are asking for.
“This is a sad situation, and the biggest losers in all of this are the listeners who enjoy the station. I firmly believe if the station goes, it will not return.”
Station director Jason Anderson declined to comment when approached by the Mail.
But after the court hearing in July, he told the Mail: “We are a community service run by volunteers.
“The finances of the company are pretty dire. This bill was always owed to them, we never denied that.
“The difficulty was in paying. Hopefully the station will survive. It would be a shame if it didn’t.