Court ruling leaves Brent Walker reeling

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The Independent Online
The future of Brent Walker hung in the balance last night after a French court ruled that the betting shops to pubs group should repay its former chairman and chief executive George Walker more than pounds 6m. The decision threatened to trigger a promise from Standard Chartered, one of the company's biggest lenders, that it would put Brent Walker into receivership rather than pay anything to Mr Walker.

George Walker said last night he was delighted by the decision, which backed a claim dating back to 1989 when the former boxer lent pounds 20m to Brent Walker to help fund the acquisition of the William Hill chain of bookmakers from Grand Metropolitan. Half the debt was paid back but pounds 10.2m remained for many years in Brent Walker's books as a contingent liability which the company then refused to pay.

After the decision in Paris yesterday, Brent Walker launched an immediate appeal and also threatened to issue an injunction against Mr Walker, preventing him from attempting to wind up the company. It is thought Mr Walker would prefer to see the company wound up rather than have it fall into receivership.

Through his lawyers, Harkavys, Mr Walker also launched an appeal, against the amount of the award which he had hoped might reach pounds 18m including interest on the outstanding loan.

According to Mr Walker's solicitor, Michael Coleman, Standard Chartered wrote to Harkavys about a year ago saying it would pull the plug on Brent Walker if judgment was given in favour of Mr Walker in the court case. More recently, doubts had arisen about whether the bank would see the threat through, given the many disadvantages of doing so.

If Brent Walker, which continues to struggle under a pounds 1.4bn debt mountain, were to be put into receivership the company would lose its stock market quotation and tax losses of up to pounds 900m, which might be attractive to a bidder, would be lost.

The threat of receivership follows a summer of speculation over the future of Brent Walker's two main subsidiary companies, William Hill and the Pubmaster chain of mainly tenanted pubs.

Five venture capital groups are thought to be lined up to bid for the 1,700-strong chain of pubs after Hill Samuel, which advises the group, appeared to have failed to find a trade buyer for the outlets.