Medway dockers set to sue

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The Independent Online
FORMER dockers from Medway Ports are threatening to take legal action against the company for depriving them of massive gains on shares they were forced to sell after being unfairly dismissed.

As the furore over the Medway Ports fiasco continues, it has emerged that Peter Vincent, chief executive, bought more than 100,000 shares in the company from former directors only three months before the pounds 103.7m takeover by Mersey Docks and Harbour. The purchase made him into an overnight multi-millionaire.

The latest legal threat from dockers follows the company's surprising decision earlier this month to admit that the workers had been unfairly dismissed on only the second day of an industrial tribunal.

The unfair dismissal case was brought after Medway Ports offered the workforce new, lower-pay contracts in December 1992. When workers refused to accept the contracts and voted for industrial action, they were regarded by the port as having made themselves voluntarily redundant.

The company has already agreed to pay the maximum compensation of pounds 10,000 each for the unfair dismissal claim.

However, of those dismissed, more than 100 were also shareholders in Medway Ports. On dismissal, they were forced to sell their shares at pounds 2.50 each, only to find them worth pounds 37.25 under the terms of the Mersey bid.

The dockers are now considering taking legal action against the company, initially for the return of their shares. The shares ended up mainly in the hands of City institutions.

''We can not rule anything out now,' says Les Harris, the branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. 'The result of the Industrial Tribunal case has opened up another avenue for us to look at.

'We have always maintained that we were unfairly dismissed. Now that the company has conceded that, we may be able to gain compensation for the shares we had to sell following that dismissal.'

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Mr Vincent, who was unavailable for comment, made three share purchases last June at a price of pounds 2.50 per share, according to official documents.

The shares had previously been owned by two former directors, Des Crampton, former operations director, and Keith Middleton, former legal director, who sold their shares at pounds 2.50 on the basis of a valuation by the accountancy firm, KPMG Peat Marwick. The two directors had resigned from the company and, under the terms of their share arrangements, were forced to sell their shares.

On 4 June 1993, Mr Vincent made two purchases of shares in Medway Ports: one of 20,900 and a second of 30,963. Ten days later he bought a further 53,186. On these two transactions he made more than pounds 3.64m profit.

In total, Mr Vincent is understood to have held 139,000 ordinary shares, valued at around pounds 5m, and a further 206,000 deferred shares, valued at around an extra pounds 7.5m. He has since become a director of Mersey Docks.

At the time of the takeover, which left the remaining 300 full-time employees with an average shareholding worth pounds 76,000, Mr Vincent was quoted as saying: 'Even our Mrs Mops are going to get pounds 25,000 each.'

The former dockers are also considering legal action to try to show that KPMG Peat Marwick were negligent when they put a pounds 2.50 valuation on the shares.

(Photograph omitted)