About pounds 15m was lent to Ferranti by the fund's trustees in 1991 because, according to the company's chairman, Eugene Anderson, it urgently needed working capital to avoid receivership.
The company has been in financial trouble since it uncovered a pounds 215m fraud at International Signal & Control, the American arms exporter it bought in 1989.
The loan was never repaid but was secured against fixed and floating charges over Ferranti assets. However, pension and insolvency experts said this would rank behind security granted to the banks. In Ferranti's latest accounts the pension fund was worth pounds 363m, and without repayment of the pounds 15m the surplus would be about pounds 90m.
Arthur Andersen, Ferranti's receivers, will appoint independent trustees to assess the value of the fund, and any surplus may be used to help pay off creditors.
Thomson, the French electronics company that runs a sonar joint venture with Ferranti, yesterday denied that the British government blocked a bid for Ferranti. It said there was 'no foundation' to the claim and it had never tried to bid for the company.
John Talbot and Murdoch McKillop from Arthur Andersen spent yesterday meeting local union leaders, Ferranti's suppliers and customers. The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions urged the Government to intervene to head off mass job losses among Ferranti's 3,000 British employees.Reuse content