Brent Walker's pounds 1m pay-off

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Brent Walker, the betting shops group struggling under a pounds 1.2bn debt burden, paid the former head of its pub division John Brackenbury pounds 1m in compensation when he left last year.

Mr Brackenbury then re-emerged as chairman of the Pubmaster group just a couple of months later, after the chain had been sold for pounds 171m to a consortium headed by NatWest Ventures.

A spokesman for Brent Walker pointed out yesterday that 60 other employees as well as Mr Brackenbury received bonuses for the successful sale of Pubmaster.

According to Brent Walker's annual report published yesterday it also paid John Brown, head of the William Hill betting chain, a pounds 250,000 bonus for achieving a settlement with Grand Metropolitan over the purchase of William Hill in 1989.

The settlement, worth a net pounds 35m to Brent Walker, was achieved by an independent arbitrator, Arthur Andersen. The Brent Walker spokesman said Mr Brown's bonus was for "all the time and hard working in getting the settlement".

In total, Mr Brown's pay increased from pounds 274,000 in 1995 to pounds 489,000 last year.

Brent Walker is fast approaching the end of its so called "work-out", having been rescued by its banks from collapse in 1991. The question that remains is when precisely its banks are prepared to crystallise a likely pounds 400m loss.

The pressure is now on either to sell or float the 1,700 William Hill betting shops, since the arrangement with the banks for pounds 1bn of loans runs out at the end of the year. Bass, which owns the 930-strong Coral betting shops chain, is widely tipped as a possible bidder, while Brent Walker could otherwise reverse William Hill into a shell or find a merger partner.

Brent Walker's advisers, Close Brothers, are drawing up the disposal options in a report which they intend to present to the board by the summer.

Lloyds Bank leads the bank syndicate for William Hill, while Standard Chartered and Svenska Handelsbanken are also heavily exposed to the group. Brent Walker's shares are currently worth just 2p.

The stark reality of the group's future is spelt out in the annual report. "Various options for realising the company's investment in William Hill are under consideration and if one of these options were to be successfully concluded the directors would consider the company's exit options, including liquidation."