A CULTURE of bullying at furniture firm Smallbone of Devizes has ended it was announced this week as a new owner for firm was announced as New York millionaire Gary Barnett.

Executive chairman Ian Gray, who joined former parent company Canburg in September, admitted that major changes were needed to put both staff and customers first.

He told the Gazette: "From what I saw there has been a culture of bullying. This sort of practice has been acceptable in a number of businesses in the past but that has changed. Staff are a vital part of what we do and need to be treated correctly."

He said that when director Jeremy Todd visited the factory on the Hopton Industrial Estate on Friday to tell the workforce about the deal with Mr Barnett there were cheers and applause.

He said: "It means that hundreds of jobs in Devizes are now safe. We have no plans to move from the town. Staff have now all been paid in full."

The buy-out by Mr Barnett was done in just three days after Canburg received a phone call last Monday from one of his staff saying he was interested in buying the business.

By Thursday the deal had been secured.

Mr Gray said: "To do a deal of this size so quickly is extremely unusual but shows the financial fire power of Mr Barnett."

Mr Barnett, the founder of Extell Development company, one of New York's most successful property companies, said: "Having deeply admired the company for many years, I was so keen to take this great opportunity to acquire these unique brands.

"Over the past 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working with Smallbone of Devizes on many projects such as our One57 development in Manhattan and was struck by its incredible design and making. It is rare to find this level of quality.

"I am looking forward to working to develop and evolve these luxury British, hand-made furniture businesses in the UK and around the world.”

The business includes the Mark Wilkinson brand and Mr Gray said he had received messages of congratulations on securing the deal from Mr Wilkinson's widow Cynthia and Charlie Smallbone the founder of Smallbone of Devizes.

Mr Gray said: "We are very excited about the future of Smallbone of Devizes and Mark Wilkinson Furniture and are delighted to receive such positive investment from the US in our iconic British brands. We are fully committed to serving our current and future clients across the world.”

The pre-pack deal means that Mr Barnett will honour employment contracts and customer orders but takes over the firm without its debts.