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Mountleigh action group is formed

Campaigners Tom Benyon and Alfred Doll-Steinberg are launching an action group on behalf of shareholders in Mountleigh, the controversial property company that failed in 1992.

The pair, known for their action in support of Lloyd's names, have launched a petition for funds from shareholders. It has attracted 400 backers and raised pounds 30,000 which they will use to investigate the pounds 550m collapse which left holders of shares and bonds with worthless paper.

The group has not decided on a strategy for its action. "We do not know how we will get our money back," said Mr Benyon.

However, they say they will use their experience picked up leading action groups connected with Lloyd's, which resulted in a pounds 504m court victory for names and failure of the Barings preference shares to find an opportunity for shareholders to recoup some losses.

The action group is due to meet Tim Hayward and Stephen James, receivers at KPMG, which is handling the collapse, to discuss their case.

Mountleigh was one of Britain's most ambitious companies in the 1980s. Shares in the former wool-manufacturer became so highly rated that the company felt able in 1987 to make a pounds 2bn bid for Storehouse, owner of the Habitat and Mothercare chains.

Shareholders were angry when Tony Clegg, the Lancastrian chief executive, sold his 22.5 per cent stake at a 40 per cent premium to market value in 1989 to Nelson Peltz and Peter May, American junk bond millionaires.

They were dismayed further when the Americans sold their stake at a premium to the Gordon Getty family trust in 1990. Two years later, the company collapsed owing pounds 147m to bondholders and about pounds 400m to banks led by Barclays and Citicorp. Its pounds 400m property portfolio was secured against bank debts.

Mr Benyon, a former MP, and Mr Doll-Steinberg, a businessman, will not seek remuneration during the course of the campaign but will take a 10 per cent fee if money is recovered.