Moores expel Littlewoods chief

Littlewoods, the privately owned, £2bn mail order, pools and stores group, yesterday sacked its chief executive, Barry Dale. He has been replaced, temporarily, by Bill Huntley, his deputy.

Mr Dale left Littlewoods' Liverpool headquarters immediately without comment. He is not receiving a pay-off and is understood to be consulting his lawyers.

The decision to dismiss Mr Dale, as revealed in the Independent earlier this week, was taken at a secret meeting at the Savoy Hotel in London last Friday.

At that meeting, attended by senior members of the Moores family who own every share in what is Britain's biggest private company, Leonard van Geest, the chairman, and two non-executive directors, it was agreed that James Suenson-Taylor, son of Betty Moores, should take the reins until a permanent successor could be found.

In further meetings this week in Liverpool, the family - principally Betty or Lady Grantchester, daughter of the late Sir John Moores, Littlewoods' redoubtable founder, and John Moores, his son - rescinded that proposal because it was felt Mr Suenson-Taylor lacked the necessary experience.

The search had now started, Mr van Geest said yesterday, for "a chief executive of the highest management calibre".

No reason was given for the departure of Mr Dale, 56, who had led the group successfully since 1993 and had been with it for seven years. His shock removal marks an attempt by the Moores to reassert their authority on their empire. Lady Grantchester, in particular, has felt for some time that the family has not been consulted fully on executive decisions.

Ever since Sir John finally retired in 1982 - he died in 1993 - his heirs have struggled to maintain his standards. They have had to turn to outsiders to run the business, which has led to conflict.

Mr Dale's firing is the latest twist in what is proving to be a turbulent period for the normally staid Littlewoods. Peter Moores, brother of John and Betty, has indicated his intention to dispose of his 22 per cent stake, which will have to be bought by the company.

Last October, Prodip Guha, the group's high-flying international director, was sacked. Mr Guha was surreptitiously photographed in the street in Chester talking to a journalist from a national newspaper. He is now suing for unfair dismissal and racial discrimination.

Then, in an unrelated move, private detectives uncovered suspected fraud in the group's stores buying department, and three managers went.

A long-running sore between the family and executives was a partnership between Littlewoods and Lorad, a Far East trading group with links to the defence industry.

The image-conscious Moores queried whether the company should be doing business with a defence-related concern and questioned the generosity being shown to the Far East trader. Littlewoods agreed to buy out Lorad, but that has turned sour. An associate company of Lorad has issued a writ against Littlewoods claiming almost £1m is outstanding. Littlewoods, which made profits of £120m in1993/4, has also been hit hard by the National Lottery, losing almost 10 per cent of its pools takings, which has forced job cuts.

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