Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 16:28 UK

'Bargain' sale of 14m Victorian seafort

By Robin Punt
BBC Midlands Today


The fort features a helipad and a revolving bed

No Man's Land, a victorian seafort in the English Channel, valued in 2004 at more than £14m has been sold for just £910,000.

Formerly a corporate hospitality venue and luxury hotel, it was owned by a Birmingham businessman until he fell ill and ran into financial difficulties and was forced to close it down.

With two helipads, luxury bedrooms, a swimming pool and a miniature lighthouse, it was meant to be a gold mine for Harmesh Pooni.

But his plans to make a fortune failed and he was evicted in April 2008 after blockading himself inside.

Ancient cannon

Since its construction in the 1860s, No Man's Land had seen off the French Navy and Hitler's Luftwaffe.

But it seems it was unable to repel an army of accountants and lawyers.

In February 2004, surveyors and land agents DTZ valued the Victorian stronghold off the Isle of Wight at £14.25m.

How can a property worth £14.25m, valued by one of the biggest firms in the world, DTZ, now be sold for £910,000 only a few years later?
Harmesh Pooni

But a BBC investigation has discovered administrators KPMG sold it in March for £910,000.

KPMG are the administrators of Lexi Holdings PLC who loaned Mr Pooni the money to buy No Man's Land and subsequently repossessed it when he failed to keep up the monthly payments.

Mr Pooni, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, and his company, Bob's Leisure, were forced out of the fort.

He told the BBC he was astonished that the panoramic sea views, the unusual rotating beds in the master suite, the huge dining room and the games room, complete with ancient cannon, could only fetch a fraction of its former value.

He said: "How can a property worth £14.25m, valued by one of the biggest firms in the world, DTZ, now be sold for £910,000 only a few years later?"

Years of disuse

KPMG told the BBC it sold the Fort through Knight Frank estate agents to Swanmore Estates Ltd, who are based in Gibraltar. The deal went through in March this year.

DTZ refused to comment.

Retired surveyor Jeremy Lear knows the Solent's sea forts - all three of them - very well.

Harmesh Pooni
Harmesh Pooni and his company, Bob's Leisure, were forced out of the fort

Taking us in his speed boat for a closer look, he told the BBC he had previously acted for clients buying and selling unique buildings.

"It's obviously been sold at a value someone is prepared to pay. I guess it reflects the condition the fort is probably now in," he said.

"With something like this it needs to be used the whole time, with heating systems in there. This was built in Victorian times and by it's very location it gets damp."

Years of disuse had not helped the condition of No Man's Land.

As a hotel and hospitality venue it could have attracted tourists to the Portsmouth area, and created jobs.

No Man's Land is important, and not simply because it is a listed building left to rot, but because of the events surrounding Mr Pooni losing his business.

'Questionable transactions'

Shortly after it was repossessed, the deeds were transferred illegally to another company by his mortgage lender, Lexi Holdings PLC.

Since then, Lexi's former director Shaid Luqman has been jailed for contempt of court and the company's dealings are being investigated by the serious fraud office.

Mr Pooni said he tried to alert the authorities years ago to his concerns over what a High Court judge later described as "a number of fraudulent or highly questionable transactions".

"Well the Office of Fair Trading, I tried to contact them and the fraud office. I just got a standard reply in essence that they weren't interested," he said.

There is one final twist - despite everything he has been through, Harmesh Pooni has not given up his fight for the fort.

Despite the fact No Man's Land has a new owner he believes he could still claim rights over this stunning seafort.

That is if he can find about £50,000 to take his case from the high seas to the High Court.

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