Brent telephone business sold

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The Independent Online
BRENT WALKER, the troubled leisure group, has sold Interactive Media Services, its premium-rate telephone information business.

The service, which runs the Rapid Raceline and Rapid Cricketline for sports fans, along with other services, has been purchased by a management buyout team for pounds 12.7m.

Of the proceeds, pounds 10.7m goes to Brent Walker. The remainder will be paid to John Brown and Robert Lambert, two directors of William Hill, Brent Walker's betting subsidiary.

Brent Walker may still retain a small interest in the operation, having reserved the right to subscribe for 2.5 per cent of the shares in the buyout company at par if it is subsequently floated on the stock market or sold.

The proceeds of the sale, however, cannot be used to pay off any of Brent Walker's debts, which stand at nearly pounds 1bn. The cash has to be retained within the William Hill organisation, which is ringfenced by bankers who have lent it pounds 350m.

Interactive Media Services, which is based in Leeds, is the UK's largest user of BT's premium-rate phone number network, offering news and information through 0891 and 0898 numbers at rates of up to 48p per minute.

Ken Scobie, chief executive of Brent Walker, said the group had sold Interactive because it had come to the point where the business needed to be developed further and Brent Walker did not have the spare capital to devote to the business.

Bill Wilson, the managing director of Interactive who is leading the buyout team, echoed those sentiments.

'There is tremendous scope for us to develop our existing services, particlularly in utilising the off- peak periods. Even more exciting is the potential to develop interactive services to assist in database collection from direct-response advertising,' he said yesterday.

The buyout team is backed by capital from 3i, Murray Johnstone and County NatWest Ventures, with loans coming from Bank of Scotland.