Medway chief under pressure

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE is mounting on the multi-millionaire Peter Vincent to step down as chief executive of Medway Ports following the surprising climbdown earlier this month when more than 270 dock workers received compensation for unfair dismissal.

The industrial tribunal hearing of the dockers' case was halted on its second day, when the company conceded it had dismissed the dockers unfairly following a restructuring of working practices within the Medway group.

Sources within the company and close to its bankers have hinted that Mr Vincent took the decision to withdraw the defence's case.

That decision has already cost the company's new owners, Mersey Docks, almost pounds 3m and exposed it to a legal threat on another front from dock workers who missed out on profits from their shares.

Under the terms of a management/employee buyout, the dismissed dockers were forced to sell their shares for pounds 2.50 - a valuation determined by independent auditors. Months later, the shares were changing hands at pounds 37.25 after the takeover bid from Mersey Docks.

When Mersey announced its intention to bid last September, it said in its offer document that Medway intended to defend the case.

'Mersey Docks does not consider that the outcome of this litigation will have a material adverse effect on the Enlarged Group,' it said.

Mr Vincent made three significant share purchases, totalling more than 100,000 at pounds 2.50 each, in June 1993. Months later he sold these shares to Mersey Docks, making a profit of pounds 3.64m.

A few weeks after the share purchases, Mr Vincent wrote to all employees of Medway Ports advising them that the board had decided either to float the company on the Stock Exchange or sell it to a trade buyer earlier than expected. He wrote that 'the board has decided to accelerate its exit policy in line with the mission statement made in July 1992'.

Mr Vincent failed to return a number of telephone calls.