Ernst is auditor to Thomas Cook, whose strategic alliance with Owners helped to see off Airtours' bid in March. The Owners spokesman said yesterday that the confusion had arisen because Ernst would have been involved in due diligence work for Cook when it took a 20 per cent stake in Owners during the bid.
'We certainly did not mean to give the impression that Ernst had independently verified the bid defence on behalf of Owners, and we regret if that was the impression taken,' the spokesman added.
The confusion arose as controversy continued to swill around the tour operator following its shock profits warning last week.
The Takeover Panel said yesterday that it was extremely unlikely that the rule preventing a fresh bid from Airtours would be waived.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Owners said the company had received no indications from shareholders that they wished to force Christopher Rodrigues, the chief executive of Thomas Cook, off the Owners board.