Guardian's land sale riles Oyston

Tycoon demands explanation after losing out to lower bid
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OWEN OYSTON, the colourful North-western businessman, has clashed with the board of the Guardian insurance company after it refused to sell him 580 acres in Lancashire for pounds 1.45m.

Mr Oyston says the company, in which he is a shareholder, has now sold the land for pounds 500,000 less than he bid. His attempt to make Guardian sell to him failed in the High Court earlier this month.

Now he has discovered that a late third bidder offered Guardian pounds 1.61m for scattered parcels of land near Blackpool, which it had planned to sell at public auction. Guardian's agents, Savills of Banbury, had set an auction guide price of pounds 1.2m. Mr Oyston now wants to know why the pounds 1.61m bid was turned down.

"Shareholders of Guardian will want to know why their board is selling assets for less than they can get from other bidders," he said. "I was induced to make a higher bid after many weeks of negotiation, which was to become final by close of business that day. I was told that my final bid had been accepted.

"Then my solicitor was asked to reveal my identity. As soon as my name was mentioned, Guardian became evasive and uncooperative. Their conduct was simply inexplicable."

Mr Oyston wanted to buy the land with his son Karl. Some of the scattered Guardian fields were earmarked for a new training ground for Blackpool Football Club, which Mr Oyston owns and where he says he will build a stadium bigger than Wembley. Others would have been farmed by Karl Oyston as low-level pasture to match the high Pennine fields near his father's Gothic pile, Claughton Hall, outside Lancaster.

Guardian's director of corporate communications, Keith Lugton, refused to reveal the identity of the winning bidder. "That will emerge later," he said. "We have now exchanged contracts. We have had to consider other factors in this sale. Mr Oyston went to law and did not succeed in his claim against us."

Despite having to face trial at Manchester Crown Court next year on charges of rape, procurement and indecent assault, the man in the big hat, who deplores the sobriquet "socialist tycoon", is back on the acquisition trail. Once controller of Transworld PLC, the biggest chain of commercial radio stations in Britain, Mr Oyston says he is again "moving into radio". He has bought a 9 per cent share in Blagg, a builders merchant now commanded by the former Citicorp Scrimgeour Vickers media analyst Chris Akers.

The City expects Blagg to start expanding by acquisition into the media sector. Mr Akers observed the 1989 deal in which Mr Oyston moved his Red Rose Radio into a celebrated reverse takeover of Miss World.

Last week, Mr Oyston was in London negotiating the flotation on the Alternative Investment Market of LEL, the industrial regeneration company that was originally known as Lancashire Enterprises.