Ex-Matrix chief teams up with MP: Former spy, Butcher and banker to buy 88% of machine tool group

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PAUL Henderson, former spy and managing director of Matrix Churchill, has joined up with a former Conservative industry minister and a merchant banker to buy a machine tool group.

Mr Henderson, John Butcher, MP for Coventry South-west, and Peter Brasier, former managing director of the merchant bank Arbuthnot Latham, have paid an undisclosed amount to buy 88 per cent of Production Systems International, a holding company with 70 employees and a turnover last year of pounds 3.5m.

It has two subsidiaries: Grantham-based Welding Machines Automated, which makes advanced welding lathes and robots, and Cox and Wright, based in Rushden, Northants, which specialises in water-jet cutting equipment.

Mr Butcher will be chairman, Mr Brasier will be corporate finance director, while Mr Henderson will run the group from day to day. He said he planned to expand its range and grow by acquisition.

This is Mr Henderson's second attempt at buying a machine tool company. In September 1990, the month after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he proposed buying Matrix Churchill, the pounds 50m sales group of which he was managing director, from its Iraqi owners. They agreed, and he arranged pounds 2.25m in financing, but the day before the sale was due to go through he was arrested with two colleagues, and charged with the illegal export of machine tools to Iraq.

Mr Henderson's trial, and ministerial attempts to stop him disclosing that he had been working for MI6 since 1973, brought him celebrity status and led to the Scott inquiry. He has since been working for an export consultancy he part owns, travelling in the Eastern European countries he used to spy on. 'There have been no problems,' he said on Friday. 'The people I do business with find it rather amusing. They were doing the same thing for their countries as I was for mine.'

John Butcher, industry minister from 1983 to 1988 and education minister until 1989, was Matrix Churchill's local MP, and had supported Mr Henderson through the trial. He had already decided to 'practise what I preach' about the importance of manufacturing, and had teamed up with Mr Brasier to search for an industrial investment. The day after the trial collapsed, he rang Mr Henderson to ask if he would join. 'What people have forgotten is that in the Midlands and the engineering industry, Paul Henderson is immensely respected as a championship player,' he said. 'I wanted the best person.'

Mr Henderson said the decision was entirely a commercial one, 'nothing to do with sticking two fingers up at the establishment,' though Mr Butcher accepts it could damage his chances of new ministerial office. 'I don't want to go back to being a minister,' he said. 'If someone asked me, I would refuse.' A political commentator said such an offer was unlikely, describing him as a 'pure Thatcherite'.

Mr Henderson, who started as a machine tool apprentice in the Fifties, believes there is a market for specialist tool producers. 'The industry has lost a tremendous amount of ground, but with the right management and drive it can certainly keep its present position,' he said.

He believes his celebrity status will neither help nor hinder his new venture. 'It's a great opener, but when it comes to nitty-gritty negotiations, it will still be down to my ability,' he said.