Judge clears Conran to take Fitch stake

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The Independent Online
SIR TERENCE CONRAN, the founder of Habitat and former chairman of Storehouse, yesterday saw off an attempt to stop him investing in the package to rescue Fitch, the debt-ridden design group.

A High Court judge refused to grant Euro RSCG, the French media group, an injunction preventing Sir Terence from investing in Fitch. But Sir Terence gave an undertaking not to become a director of the company until his contract to supply consultancy services to the French group expires next July.

A spokeswoman for Euro RSCG said afterwards that the action would continue. 'We are rather pleased with the judgment, as we have won half the argument. We intend to go on with the case.'

A spokesman for Fitch said that the French company had failed to stop Sir Terence investing in the restructuring and that the deal, which will give him 25 per cent of Fitch, would go ahead, pending shareholder approval on Monday.

The pounds 2.5m package also involves two former directors of RSCG: Jean-Francois Bentz and Bernard Roux. Fitch's shares were suspended in July at 41p.

During the hearing, Sir Terence said that Conran Design, bought from Storehouse by RSCG in July 1990 for pounds 2m, was 'in grave financial difficulties'. At the time of the sale, Sir Terence signed an exclusive three-year consultancy agreement with RSCG.

During the hearing, RSCG claimed that Sir Terence had tried to stage a management buyout at Conran Design to 'talk down the price' before making a modest offer to buy the company back for pounds 225,000.

When that was turned down, he resigned as a director of Conran Design and, it was alleged, was now trying to get the business 'for nothing' by moving into a direct competitor with two ex-RSCG directors.

Mr Michael Burton QC, for Euro RSCG, told Mr Justice Vinelott: 'It is the clearest breach of any duty of fidelity owed by Sir Terence as a consultant, never mind the fact that he sold the company to Euro RSCG not long ago. Sir Terence can't be involved with two companies both vying for the same business and customers.'

Sir Terence denied there would be any breach of the consultancy agreement, and that he had attempted to 'soften up Conran Design' by talking of a management buyout. His only involvement with Fitch would be financial. He would not be actively involved in the design business until after July.