Blue Arrow chief faces 15-year ban

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The Independent Online
TONY BERRY, the former chairman and chief executive of the Blue Arrow employment group, faces a boardroom ban for up to 15 years, following a government decision yesterday to apply for a court order to disqualify him as a director.

The move by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, follows severe criticism of Mr Berry's stewardship of the Blue Arrow group - renamed Manpower - in a report by two DTI-appointed inspectors, Hilary Heilbron and Michael Boohan.

Mr Berry said he would fight the disqualification order when it came to court later in the autumn, and that he had only rejected applying for a judicial review because of the cost. Mr Berry's legal bills so far are pounds 600,000. His advisers said he expected them to be paid under an indemnity from his former company.

If disqualified, he would have to step down as deputy chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, which owns the football club, and from the chairmanship of Business Technology Group, which said last night it fully supported him.

Mr Berry said the inspectors' conclusions were 'unjustified, unfair, untrue and utterly rejected'.

They make no accusations of fraud in the 500-page report. They also completely clear Peter de Savary, the yachtsman and entrepreneur who was involved in a Canvey Island property deal with Blue Arrow, and Lord Tebbit, the former cabinet minister who was a non-executive director of Blue Arrow.

But they criticise Michael Ashcroft, chairman of ADT - a substantial Blue Arrow shareholder - for not disclosing all the information required under section 212 notices, a Companies Act provision that forces disclosure of ownership. So Blue Arrow was unaware of Mr Ashcroft's interest in part of Mr Berry's shareholding in Blue Arrow.

Mr Berry welcomed the inspectors' conclusion that a pounds 25m loan by Blue Arrow to a Canvey Island property development organised by Mr de Savary was 'a genuine commercial transaction' and was 'neither fraudulent nor improper'.

But the inspectors said Mr Berry had breached his fiduciary duty to Blue Arrow in this and other deals, including transactions in Tottenham Hotspur shares.

The inspectors also gave their verdict on personalities swept up in the affair. Of Mr de Savary, they said the perception that his role was questionable was incorrect. There was no fraud or impropriety in the Canvey transaction, which was offered in good faith.

The inspectors said they wished to make it 'totally clear that Mr Tebbit, like his co-non-executive directors, was in no way implicated in any of the matters of which we have made criticism in this report'.

Mitchell Fromstein, head of Manpower, was 'not implicated in any way'. But Bruce Gray, company secretary, was said to have discharged his responsibilities in a 'most unsatisfactory' way, although he was not dishonest or intentionally misleading.

David Atkins bore a degree of responsibility for irregular meetings procedures. Nicholas Fazakerley was criticised for the same reason and also allowed accounts relating to a development in Portugal to remain unresolved without raising his concerns with the board.

Only five disqualification orders have been sought, all successfully, since legislation was enacted in 1986 to allow applications on the basis of an inspector's report.

The events in which Mr Berry was involved were quite separate from those that led to an inspectors' report into County NatWest's role in the Blue Arrow rights issue. But publication was nevertheless held up in case it affected the trials of City executives involved in the rights issue.