End of the road for Brent Walker

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The Independent Online
Brent Walker looks certain to be liquidated following the sale of William Hill, its last remaining substantial subsidiary, for pounds 700m to Nomura. The disposal marks the end of the leisure empire built up by former boxer George Walker which at one time owned marinas, more than 1,000 pubs and the bookmakers, which were sold yesterday.

Completion of the sale will leave Brent Walker with less than pounds 5m of assets offset by more than pounds 500m of debts owed to a consortium of banks, most of which have written off the bad loans. There will be no return for shareholders and its shares will be delisted at the end of the month.

Nomura's acquisition of William Hill's 1,500 betting offices makes it the second-largest bookmaker in Britain after Ladbroke. It is understood to have outbid rival Bass, which owns the smaller Coral chain, as well as a venture capital-backed management buyout. The Japanese takeover is likely to signal the end for the incumbent management.

Guy Hands, head of Nomura's principal finance group, said: "William Hill has a great future. We will create a new independent force in British betting which will stimulate greater competition in the industry."

Nomura has made a series of large acquisitions in Britain recently, including 5,400 pubs to make it the country's largest pub landlord, a train leasing company and a portfolio of Ministry of Defence housing. Its strategy in each case has been to use the strong cash flow from the assets to back bond issues ahead of a planned flotation of the business after between three and five years.