Engineers geared up for showdown

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The Independent Online
DAVID ABELL, the chairman of engineering company Suter, and Stephen Hinchliffe, the former chairman of James Wilkes, look set for a battle to settle finally the ownership of Wilkes, the Sheffield-based engineer that survived a hostile bid last year.

Suter last week declared it had bought an 8.9 per cent stake in Wilkes 'for investment purposes', while the week before Mr Hinchliffe - who resigned as chairman during last year's pounds 28m bid from Petrocon - bought a 1.5 per cent stake to take his holding to 10.2 per cent.

A further 9 per cent of the company is owned by Centenary Corporation, a mysterious Swiss group headed by a lawyer called Edward Gottesman.

Although the 1.5 per cent bought by Mr Hinchliffe and about a third of the stake bought by Suter are believed to have come from the same source, TSB Group, Mr Abell denied they were working in concert.

'I have spoken to him (Mr Hichliffe),' said Mr Abell. 'However, I can assure you we are acting totally independently and possibly in contradictory ways.'

Mr Abell would not discuss the subject of his conversations with the former Wilkes chairman but said he had not offered to buy Mr Hinchliffe's shares.

Mr Abell said it was rather irritating that Mr Hinchliffe had bought his stake when he did, as Suter had just bought a 2 per cent holding and was looking to pick up some more shares. He said Mr Hinchliffe's purchase had forced up the price.

Mr Hinchliffe received a pounds 533,000 pay-off on leaving the Wilkes board. However, he retains a keen interest in the company.

Suter is well known for its tactic of building stakes in companies as launch pads for bids - either by itself or by other companies with its blessing.

A Department of Trade and Industry inquiry was instituted into Suter's activities in five companies during the mid 1980s. It published a report in January that cleared Mr Abell of any impropriety.

(Photograph omitted)