The former owner and director of vegetable processing company Bunny Bites Food has told the Supreme Court in Hobart he didn’t think forgery of his signature was anything to report to police. John Brent, mayor of the Scenic Rim in Queensland and director of peak vegetable lobby group Ausveg, was half owner of Bunny Bites with his brother Peter when it collapsed in July 2013. John and Peter Brent have appeared in Hobart Supreme Court, because a creditor, onion grower Glen Moore of CARS Pty Ltd, is trying to recover $1.4 million owed by Bunny Bites. Central to the claim is a document guaranteeing the debt of Bunny Bites to creditors, signed in February 2011. The court heard day-to-day running of the vegetable processing business fell to John Brent’s son and daughter Matthew and Sally Brent. Matthew Brent was operations manager of Bunny Bites, and Sally ran the finances, and both continue to work with the new owners. John Brent contended he was only made aware that Sally Brent ever provided a debt guarantee to Mr Glen Moore in February 2011, after the collapse of Bunny Bites in mid-2013.
Bunny Bites was placed into liquidation on July 15, 2013. Barrister for the onion grower CARS Pty Ltd, Shaun McElwaine, asked John Brent whether he tried to find out about the forgery.
“Did you in your capacity as a director of Bunjurgen (trading as Bunny Bites) make enquiries as to how it was that a document which bore your signature, being a guarantee for the debts of the company, had come into existence?”
John Brent replied: “No I didn’t, because I was no longer in control of the company.” Mr McElwaine asked John Brent whether he was distressed that the document ‘purported to bear your signature’ had apparently been prepared as a security for the debts of the company. John Brent replied he was, but that he never asked Sally or Matthew Brent about it since. The barrister put it to John Brent that as a law abiding citizen and mayor of two shires in Queensland, with regular contact with the police, that he should have raised the issue of his forged signature with the police.
“I wouldn’t have thought that, given this is a matter of a civil nature, that just wasn’t a thought that came to me.”
Mr Brent denied he was covering up for his two children, and he didn’t want to ask his daughter Sally about the forged debt guarantee because he didn’t want to go on a ‘witch hunt’. Under questioning by his own barrister, Mr Brent denied he ‘turned a blind eye to’ it because (he knew or suspected) that it his daughter or son was responsible for his signature. “Not at all,” said John Brent. Co-director Peter Brent told the court that he was in charge of keeping the vegetable processing plant operational, but not the finances. He agreed it was his signature on a document guaranteeing the debt of Bunny Bites to CARS suppliers, but did not recall signing it. Peter Brent said he trusted his brother. “And if John signed it, I’ll sign it.” The judge has reserved his decision.