Bunhill: A case of brass and muckraking

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The Independent Online
BIZARRE as it may appear in these recessionary times, an unseemly war of words has broken out over rich lists, those long and tiresome (but occasionally fascinating) scrolls of the fortunes of the country's wealthiest individuals.

In one corner is Tom Rubython, editor of Business Age, which filled so many newspaper column inches with its richest women list last week, and Kevin Cahill, author of the report. In the other is Philip Beresford, the deviser of the rich list in the Sunday Times who this week leaves his job as editor of Management Today to devote himself full-time to tracking the nation's millionaires.

In his editorial, Mr Rubython hails the rich women as a 'triumph' and goes on to describe Mr Cahill, a jovial Irishman, as an 'inspiration' behind the Sunday Times list. Mr Cahill, he says, accepts 'no responsibility for the Sunday newspaper's latest list and the embarrassing gaffe of including Lord Beaverbrook as a new entry at pounds 50m. Clearly, this was nonsense as only six months before the Royal Bank of Scotland was ready to foreclose for a sum as ludicrous as pounds 500,000.'

Mr Rubython trumpets: 'That sort of research has no place on any rival lists published in Business Age.' And he ends by throwing down the gauntlet: Business Age is publishing its list of the 500 richest individuals in Britain in the autumn and it may be 'as much as 50 per cent different from the Sunday Times version'. This one, he adds, 'is researched'.

In public, Mr Beresford is presenting a brave face. In private, he is hopping mad: Mr Cahill was not 'an inspiration' behind his work but a journeyman researcher employed to look at specific entries. And the rich women list, he maintains, is 'full of inaccuracies and guesstimates'.

As for his own efforts, Mr Beresford claims to dedicate his working life to getting the figures right. Inevitably, as in the case of Beaverbook, some mistakes do occur.

But he cites Peter Wilson, who sold his own Estates Gazette publishing business for pounds 59.4m just three months after being valued by the Sunday Times at pounds 60m. 'You can't get much closer than that,' Mr Beresford chortles.