Exchange censures Firecrestchief

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City Editor

The controversy surrounding advertising and Internet stock Firecrest heightened last night as the Stock Exchange censured the company's chief executive, Roy Capper, and, unusually, made the censure public.

The public criticism followed Mr Capper's failure to announce "without delay" the grant of an option over shares he owned to a company controlled by Robert Manning, chairman of Firecrest. The option, granted last August, gave Mr Manning the right to buy 400,000 Firecrest shares at 51p between the grant date and the end of August 1998.

Mr Manning's company, Bewel Holdings, already owned 666,667 shares in Firecrest, representing 3.4 per cent of Firecrest's capital. The grant of the option took his interest, for the purposes of the relevant Stock Exchange rule, to 5.6 per cent.

The Stock Exchange said responsibility for disclosing the option lay with Mr Capper. It added, however, that Mr Manning was also under censure from the Exchange with regard to the share option but he was appealing against the decision. A further announcement will be made on his censure.

Firecrest joined the Alternative Investment Market last summer at 38p and immediately saw its shares soar to 203p on the back of news that the company had secured an exclusive deal with a US company to provide cheap telephone calls on the Internet.

It tapped the market for funds with a 120p placing, since when the stock has been one of the most volatile on the fledgling AIM market. A week ago it raised more cash at just 50p "to fund a number of projects which it considers have great potential".