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Revealed: ‘Miss Conduct’ yacht owner is rogue landlord who spun ‘web of deceit’ to mislead tenants

Thomas Flight hid behind aliases and fake addresses, and deployed aggressive ‘agents’ to deny people living in his St Paul’s flats their rights as tenants.

Investigations

Thomas Flight relied on a veil of secrecy that made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for his tenants to make complaints, dispute unfair charges, or seek help with their unreturned deposits.  

The landlord, who owns the multi-million-pound Miss Conduct yacht docked in Bristol Harbour, hid behind fake names, addresses and companies to mislead those living in his various apartments in Portland Square, St Paul’s.

But on Friday 6 January, Flight’s “web of deceit” – as a judge put it – unravelled in court, as he pleaded guilty to several charges and agreed to pay a total of more than £30,000 in fines and costs to Bristol City Council.

His tenants were often young students, renting for the first time. Inexperienced, they were forced into exchanges over email with anonymous, unhelpful and at times aggressive ‘agents’ who stalled or shut down their enquiries.

When Flight’s tenants asked for the return of their deposits, the agents gave out false information to make the process practically impossible. On one occasion, the agents’ failure to disclose Flight’s identity meant a tenant was unable to claim housing benefits.

The 55-year-old’s reputation – he’s known for his donations to and fundraising for various charities in the city – took a hit after he evicted the owners of Hidden Corner Café in October 2021. 

Hidden Corner was a well-loved queer bookshop and café space in Portland Square. Its owners, at the time of their eviction, accused Flight of employing tactics of harassment and intimidation.

Last year, a protest was held in front of Flight’s Miss Conduct yacht. Demonstrators denounced his behaviour, with one speaker listing a raft of allegations surrounding the eviction and other claims about Flight’s practices as a landlord.

Protesters with a placard that reads ‘justice for Hidden Corner’ stand in front of landlord Thomas Flight’s yacht, the Miss Conduct

These claims were not covered in the media at the time due to reporting restrictions in place while a case was active against Flight, but the Cable had been gathering evidence from a number of his previous tenants.

Meanwhile, he was facing six charges of misleading or reckless commercial practice over his treatment of tenants at his nine-flat property in Portland Square, located in the same building as Hidden Corner.

Flight, who had previously denied any wrongdoing, last week changed his plea to guilty.

He admitted to four of the six charges against him and was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court on Friday. He avoided jail, but was ordered to pay £12,000 in fines, and £24,000 to Bristol City Council for the costs of its investigation.

It was more than a year ago that the Cable began investigating allegations of malpractice by Flight as a landlord, including his various aliases and ‘agents’, after multiple tenants came forward. 

Our investigation found that in addition to the four examples brought forward in court by Bristol City Council, Flight employed the same tactics against several other people who had lived in his apartments. 

And now the case has concluded, Flight’s misleading and reckless behaviour – or “web of deceit” as Judge Michael Cullum put it, which caused financial loss as well as stress and anxiety for his tenants – can finally be revealed.

Forced out of her home during lockdown

In June 2019, Rebecca and her then boyfriend Declan moved into an apartment in 21 Portland Square – one of nine in the building owned by Flight. Seven of the flats are now luxury Airbnbs that are let at up to £580 per night.

Rebecca and Declan signed a tenancy agreement that did not contain the name of the landlord. While they remained tenants, despite their efforts, they would never discover his name or correct address.

The couple, according to prosecutors, were told their £910 deposit would be protected in a government deposit protection scheme. It was paid into the bank account of Presman Ltd, a business controlled by Flight.

By May the following year, the couple had separated and Rebecca was staying in the flat, paying rent on her own. It was during the first coronavirus lockdown and she needed to apply for housing benefit.

Seven of the landlord’s Portland Square apartments are now luxury Airbnbs, including this penthouse suite

Rebecca needed to know the name of her landlord when applying for this benefit from Bristol City Council. But when she asked the agent – a man named Simon Hooper, of the company Portman – she was misled.

Hooper told her the landlord was ‘Student Lets Bristol’, but he gave no further information. The information provided was not enough, and Rebecca was forced to end the tenancy and look for somewhere else to live.

Rebecca received an email from Portman in July 2020, after she had left the property, which informed her of £230 checkout and cleaning fees that she would need to pay for herself and her ex-boyfriend. This was not referenced in their tenancy agreement.

She sought the return of her security deposit but was told by Portman that for this she needed to deal directly with the landlord. The agent provided her with an address for ‘Student Lets Bristol’ in Swindon, but the address had no connection with her flat or any business by the same name. 

Bristol Crown Court heard Rebecca later discovered that the tenancy deposit she had supplied was not, as the agent had assured her, protected in any of the three government approved protection schemes available at the time. 

Flight disputes this claim.

Protesters who picketed Flight’s yacht came armed with banners, including this one that reads ‘all landlords are bastards’

The pattern was identical for Thomas and Mathias, whose case, like Rebecca’s, was brought forward in court by Bristol City Council.

As international students, they were required to pay rent, deposits and fees up front when they moved into one of Flight’s flats in May 2019. They paid a total of £1,656 into an account held by Cresley Management Ltd – another business controlled by Flight. 

Prosecutors said that during the students’ tenancy, they were required to pay fees that were not outlined to them at the beginning of the tenancy, and needed to buy electricity cards for the flat when they had been led to believe rent and bills were inclusive.

After moving out in May 2020, they chased the return of their security deposit and were told by an agent – this time someone purporting to work for an organisation called PRM – that they would need to deal with the landlord directly.

Despite asking for the landlord’s details, prosecutors said Thomas and Mathias never received them.

Harassing and aggressive communication

Daisy, Carys and Ellie – three young women, all students – moved into their Portland Square flat in February 2020. They soon had cause to make a number of complaints.

One of the disputes involved a claim that the agent had cut off their Wi-Fi and was trying to charge them £115 to have it reinstalled. The threat was made by phone, from a withheld number, so they were unable to return their calls.

The students also asked for the identity of the landlord to help them resolve the issues they had. In response to this enquiry, the agent gave the address Quincley Flats at 127 Bishop Street. No name was given, and the address didn’t exist.

Before moving into the property the tenants were shown around by the caretaker of the building, Sean Sparks. They had never met or spoken to Flight, prosecutors told Bristol Crown Court.

When they agreed to let the flat they signed a tenancy agreement with Sparks, who simply signed his name as ‘Portman Residential’. No landlord address was present on the document and its front page was missing completely.

Complaints from the tenants were dealt with mainly over emails, in which their agent signed off as ‘Portman’. The tenants said when issues were raised, the agent corresponding with them was unhelpful and became rude, harassing and aggressive.

Prosecutors said that in October 2020, Carys sent an email of complaint to Portman that prompted some particularly aggressive and inappropriate responses. The agent demanded the tenants withdraw their complaints but they refused to do so.

The court heard that when the tenants’ complaints continued, Portman then sent an email to all tenants in the building and invited other tenants to photograph them as they went about the communal areas.

Widespread misconduct

These case studies were brought in front of a judge following Bristol City Council’s investigation. Since the local authority launched its investigation, Flight has refunded these tenants a total of £10,646.

But there are several other previous tenants who, speaking to the Cable, have provided documentary evidence that the behaviour of Flight and his team of ‘agents’ was even more widespread. 

Sarah* rented one of Flight’s flats between 2016 and 2017. She said that throughout her tenancy she received threatening and “abusive” emails from an agent, operating under the name of ‘Bristol & West Properties’.

In one email thread seen by the Cable, she was called a “very unstable and dangerous little girl… or she has mental health issues”. She was also branded “pathetic” and “sad”.

When Sarah enquired about her unusually high gas and electricity bills, the agent asked if she had been taking medication that may have a side-effect of paranoia. 

In another, sent after Sarah’s tenancy ended, an agent said it is to the “relief of me, the managing agents and everyone else in the building” that Sarah had “gone”. They added: “And so has her deposit.”

Sarah’s deposit was not returned to her when her tenancy came to an end in 2017, and she’s still out of pocket. The Deposit Protection Service told her the landlord did not agree to use the service. 

‘Let the games begin’

Like Sarah, Olly rented one of Flight’s apartments between 2016 and 2017. He also experienced issues when it came to reclaiming his deposit, and received “bizarre” and threatening emails from agents.

Documents seen by the Cable show that Olly and his housemates were charged a total of £5,370 worth of damages during their tenancy. Many of these were disputed, but their deposit was withheld.

Under their tenancy agreement, Olly and his friends were liable to pay as much as £25 for a single phone call to the agents’ maintenance telephone line, or £15 for one email.

After Olly enquired about the return of their deposit, the agent demanded that he and his housemates provide an onward address to post them a cheque, threatening to contact their employers if they didn’t do so. 

Olly’s housemate informed the landlord that they did not have an onward address as they were yet to secure a new tenancy. The agent accused them of lying and taunted them: “Let the games begin.”

They told them: “You are out of the flat now and play by my rules and not yours… Don’t now try and give me a false Bristol address as any cheque will be posted to that address eg you won’t get your cheque if you try and be silly again.”

Unlike Sarah’s, most of Olly and his housemates’ deposit was eventually returned to them under a deposit protection scheme.

Who is Peter Carpenter?

Both Olly and Sarah knew who Flight was, but were not certain he was their landlord. When making enquiries about their property, they both dealt with ‘agents’ who they had never met.

When asked by investigators, Flight was unable to confirm the identity of some of the agents’ names given to his tenants. It remains unclear if some of them even exist.

The Cable understands that in February 2021, Flight attended an interview under caution in which he told investigators a ‘Peter Carpenter’ had been acting as his agent in relation to residential lets.

However, he was unable to provide any information on Carpenter, or on anyone else he claimed was responsible for tenants’ complaints. Bristol City Council investigators believed Carpenter was merely a “persona” created by Flight.

On a later date, Flight supplied investigators with two signed agreements between himself and Carpenter as proof of his purported agency operation. He gave an address for Carpenter on Queens Road in Clifton.

The address was for a large commercial building that contained Bristol University offices, commercial offices and a nightclub. There were no records of a Peter Carpenter connected to the address. 

Damaging trust

Flight’s attempt to keep his personal details secret continued in the courtroom. 

At a case management hearing at Bristol Crown Court in September last year, the judge presiding over the case threatened to remand him in custody if he did not disclose his home address. 

“The court has absolutely no idea where Mr Flight lives,” said Judge Cullum. “It is immediately apparent to me that there is reluctance from Mr Flight [to disclose his home address].”

“The court has been told he’s been targeted in the past. But the fact remains that the court is entitled to know where it is,” he said, adding that there was a “real risk” the defendant could “frustrate proceedings” by failing to attend court.

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After some deliberation, Flight’s legal team submitted his address – the Miss Conduct yacht –  to the court. A condition of his bail was that he must remain living on the vessel, which is docked in Wapping Wharf, and tell the court if he moves.

It was not immediately clear what Flight meant by being ‘targeted’ – he declined several requests for comment by the Cable – but it could have been a reference to the protest that had taken place in front of the Miss Conduct.

On 29 August last year, demonstrators gathered for a boat-party-themed protest that saw several banners pinned to the railings in front of the vessel including ones that read ‘W’anchors Aweigh!’ and ‘All Landlords Are Bastards’.

One speaker at the event noted that Flight is a well-known member of Bristol’s LGBTQ+ community, respected in some circles for throwing big parties and using the yacht as a HQ for his charity fundraising.

One demonstrator told the Cable at the time that this respectability is simply a “veneer” to avoid allegations of being a rogue landlord. “[He] needs to be held to account,” they added. 

Sentencing Flight on Friday, Judge Cullum also highlighted the contradiction between the businessman’s financial support for “local, diverse communities” in the city and his “calculated decision to hide [himself] behind a number of personal identities and aliases” to mislead tenants in Portland Square.

“You would not have rented [property] to someone if you didn’t know who they were. It’s an issue of trust,” the judge added. “You have damaged that trust. That’s why this is a serious and not a technical matter.”

The Cable’s next print edition will include more in-depth reporting on the impact Flight’s ‘web of deceit’ has had on his tenants. If you have had a similar experience with a landlord, we’re keen to hear from you too. Contact: sean@thebristolcable.org

*Names changed to protect identity

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Comments

Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • Brilliant reporting, people like this need to be held accountable. Problem is that £30k is nothing to someone so wealthy and will probably be recouped in rent rises.
    Root and branch reform of the rent laws needed. I doubt we will get this from any government now or in the near future?

    Reply

  • I know the facts. This story is blown out of all proportion.

    He was NOT found guilty of being a rogue Landlord. That’s why, like the story says he is STILL allowed to operate as a Landlord. Wake up people!

    He pleaded guilty to some Consumer Protection offences rather than fight a lengthy legal case which involved a letting agent who did a runner. He saved himself and the Council tens of thousands in legal fees.

    His Companies are NOT a landlords anymore. He admitted protecting the identity of himself as a Company Director due to previous vicious attacks on him in St. Pauls.
    Also nonsense is that “payments were traced back to him.” He doesn’t take money from poor students, he doesn’t have time. like all multi-millionaires, he has companies and agents who do this work. There are so many factual errors.
    The news teams didn’t even attend court or question him. Why wasn’t the Press Statement published? Wake up people!

    It’s all one-sided, anti wealth nonsense. Someone in this town makes it big time and everyone wants to trash them. Jealousy. Anyone who really knows him knows that he is a good man.

    Reply

  • Clearly the court has made its judgement and allowing him to carry on being a landlord still with just a 12k fine puts it into perspective. There are real rouges out there if you want… Just walk and talk around Easton if you want a real story.

    Reply

  • Great coverage but this man is dangerous and should be behind bars. That fine won’t mean anything to him. Total scumbag who truly affected hundreds of young people’s lives over the years and has stolen way more from them than that fine.

    Reply

  • Why was the boat not boarded and occupied as homes if not a cafe ?
    Relying on the state santioned control system to reprimand/provide justice, in this or any similar case against criminal landlords, is nothing short of farcical.
    At the very least, the yacht should of been confiscated, as well as the fine, by way of recuperation for the victims.
    Alas until people organise matters will only get worse.

    Reply

  • To me people like Flight deserve to be highlighted in the media as you have done, there should be a media site where articles can be posted highlighting court cases such as this. Humane (?) beings care very little about anyone, except their reputation, so that is what needs to be drawn to the public’s attention. You mentioned he contributed to local charities, he does not sound like a philanthropist, perhaps enhancing his reputation is the reason for his donation. A relative lives in Bristol, and her landlord offered her a discount in rent with the cost of living crisis , so there is the good bad and the ugly. Flight flaunts his behaviour naming his yacht misconduct.

    Reply

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