Husband and wife team quit Country Casuals board

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The Independent Online
Mark and Christina Bunce, the husband and wife team who have been considering a possible bid for Country Casuals, resigned from the board of the troubled womenswear retailer yesterday. However, they said they were still interested in making an offer.

The latest twist in the company's fortunes came as Country Casuals announced the sale of its two loss-making subsidiaries, the Lerose manufacturing division and the Elvi stores chain, which sells clothes for larger women. Both divisions have been sold to their respective management teams for nominal sums. Country Casuals will take a pounds 5m charge on the deals.

Mark Bunce, who was chief executive, and his wife Christina, who was merchandise director, will remain as employees of the business and still hold executive positions within the company. Andrew Mills-Baker, finance director, will assume the role of chief executive. Mr and Mrs Bunce were both on 12-month contracts but it is not yet clear if they will leave the company or choose to work their notice.

Country Casuals has experienced a volatile recent history. It was the subject of a hostile bid in 1995 from John Shannon, the then chief executive. That 140p per share offer was rejected. Last night the company's shares closed 2.5p lower at 111.5p

Asked if the turbulence the company had experienced was now on the wane, the embattled Mr Mills-Baker replied: "Who knows?"

He was speaking after the company's annual meeting yesterday. Mr and Mrs Bunce both attended the meeting but did not take a seat on the podium or ask any questions.

Tom Adam, chairman, said: "The proposed agreements to sell Elvi and Lerose Manufacturing provide the group with a clean and immediate break from all costs and liabilities relating to the employees of the two businesses and all but two of Elvi's retail leases. This will allow the group to focus entirely on its successful Country Casuals format and to build shareholder value without distraction."

Country Casuals also issued a statement on current trading yesterday. It showed that like-for-like sales in the core Country Casuals business were 9 per cent ahead of the same period last year. The company said customers had responded positively to the "New Mood" concept being introduced to the stores.