Brent Walker wind-up threat

George Walker, the ousted founder of Brent Walker, is threatening to put the pubs and William Hill betting group into liquidation if it fails pay a pounds 10.2m debt due to one of his family trusts.

Last week, a French judge indicated he was likely to rule in favour of Holt Freres, a French trust for Mr Walker's children, in a long-running legal dispute over money lent to help finance the pounds 685m purchase of William Hill in 1989.

The money is just a drop in the ocean of Brent Walker's pounds 1.5bn debt, but main bankers Standard Chartered have bitterly resisted any settlement with Mr Walker, threatening the group with receivership.

The final written ruling from the Paris Commercial Court is due in September.

But last week, the judge rejected Brent Walker's defence that it had a right of set-off against a pounds 10m claim it has against another family trust, according to Mr Walker's lawyer, Michael Coleman. And if the group chooses to ignore the judgment, Mr Walker will go for liquidation. "They're already saying they won't pay up. Then we'll petition to wind the company up. I've already got instructions on this," Mr Coleman said.

Neither Brent Walker nor Standard Chartered would make any substantive comment, saying they would await the final ruling.

A winding-up petition would inevitably lead the banks to call in the receivers, however, leaving Mr Walker as an unsecured creditor alongside hundreds of others. And subsequent liquidation would probably leave shareholders with nothing, causing valuable tax losses to disappear.

The Holt Freres case is just one of a series of bitter running battles between Mr Walker and the company, which long-suffering investors have to observe. They have also seen the planned flotation of its Pubmaster chain delayed, while sale of William Hill has yet to materialise.

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