Bunhill: Globe resists unkind world

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The Independent Online
THINKING of buying a rival business in order to close it down? I hear of a cautionary tale from Southport, Lancs, where a cosy plan to reduce competition has gone gloriously awry.

Trinity International, the regional newspaper group that owns the Southport Visitor, last month agreed to pay Reed Elsevier more than pounds 500,000, I gather, for its arch-rival the Southport Globe.

The dastardly aim was to shut it down, leaving the Visitor without competition and able to mop up the Globe's readers and advertisers.

All seemed to be going according to plan. The Department of Trade and Industry approved the deal on the grounds that the Globe, circulation 73,000, was losing money and likely to collapse. As copies of the last-ever Globe dropped through letter-boxes in Southport, Ormskirk and Formby, the editor Phil Maddox and 25 reporters and salesmen were promptly sacked.

But Reed may just have underestimated the mettle of Maddox, who in an earlier career was a deal maker for the plane maker Lockheed. He persuaded his colleagues, who were still awaiting their redundancy cheques, to fight back. Within days The Champion was born - a new paper that dropped into those same 73,000 letter-boxes on the very day that the old Globe would have arrived.

'It was a close-run thing,' says Maddox. 'We didn't even have an office. We had very little time. Our telesales team worked from hotel bedrooms and sold pounds 11,000 of ads in four days. As soon as we hit the streets, Reed started claiming that I was still on their payroll and I must stop work on The Champion if I am ever to collect my redundancy money.'

Maddox's backer is John Birtwistle, former publisher of the Merseymart chain of free papers, who sold out to Trinity in 1991. He says: 'These former Reed employees have been treated very shabbily. Their old paper was an excellent product and the only real competition to Trinity in the area.'

The local MP, Tory Matthew Banks, tried to persuade the DTI to take Reed's pessimistic figures about the Globe with a pinch of salt, but without success. 'I still remain to be convinced that the actions of the larger newspapers here have not been entirely anti- competitive.'

Meanwhile, Reed claims the deal will still go through. Contracts were exchanged on 22 February and completion is scheduled for 3 May, it says. Trinity - possibly pounds 500,000 the poorer and still facing as much competition as ever - won't comment. I wonder why.