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Fresh bid to block Punch

WHITBREAD YESTERDAY admitted it was trying to delay Punch's bid for Allied Domecq's pub estate out of sheer "bloody-mindedness", and because it did not see why Punch should be allowed to take advantage of months of costly work done on Whitbread's behalf.

Whitbread will today seek to stop Punch substituting its name for Whitbread's in a legal document gathering 120 Allied companies into one for the purpose of the sale. Allied booked a court hearing to rubber stamp the reorganisation for today when it was recommending Whitbread's now-defunct offer.

In an admission of bloody-mindedness by Whitbread, its spokesman, David Reed, said: "Punch is looking to step into Whitbread's shoes and we don't see why we should make it easy for them." Whitbread and Allied have already shared fees to Clifford Chance and Linklaters, the law firms that drafted the reorganisation. But the move was about more than costs, Mr Reed said. "It was Whitbread who set all this going after Allied issued a profits warning. Whitbread spent weeks sorting out the scheme. All we're asking is that Punch does its own work."

He added the obstruction had nothing to do with Bass, Whitbread's rival, which is set to receive 700 pubs from Punch/Allied deal.

Punch responded to Whitbread's criticisms with characteristic disdain. "Whitbread can do what it likes," said Punch's spokesman. "It's just sour grapes."

If Whitbread is successful, Punch will have to apply for another court hearing in a couple of months time, increasing the risk of a counterbid for the pub estate in the meantime.