Mystery over Stanhope offer

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The Independent Online
Mystery surrounds the attempt by Guinness Peat to increase its stake in the troubled Stanhope property group to 15 per cent - one day after it was confirmed that British Land's £125.5m agreed takeover bid had gone unconditional.

No reason was forthcoming last night for the off-market tender offer by Guinness Peat, an investment holding company chaired by Sir Ron Brierley which already holds, or has agreed to buy, a 4.4 per cent stake in Stanhope.

One insider said: "Guinness is playing its cards very close to its chest on this. It could be they want a stake in a company now perhaps going somewhere, or it could be some sort of spoiling tactic for the British Land bid."

The Guinness Peat tender offer after the stock market closed last night came 24 hours after shares in USM-quoted Stanhope were suspended.

This, in turn, followed confirmation that British Land's 3p-a-share bid had gone unconditional, giving it 91.6 per cent of a group previously rescued from the brink of receivership.

Stanhope's shares had shown a 60 per cent gain to 6p before the suspension, and the shares stayed suspended yesterday. Shares in John Ritblat's British Land group finished yesterday 3p off at 376p.

Guinness Peat, which has built up its existing Stanhope stake at an average price of 3.5p, is pitching its tender offer for up to 17.6 million ordinary Stanhope shares at 5p a share.

It is 66.66 per cent higher than the British Land offer and, because it is being made off-market, is free of all transaction commissions.

Stanhope is the joint owner of the prestigious Broadgate office complex in the City, together with the bank creditors to Rosehaugh, its former development partner.

Sir Ron Brierley, the New Zealand-born entrepreneur, is widely viewed as one of the City's most canny investors.

The Takeover Panel ruled earlier this month that British Land was not obliged to take full control of Broadgate Properties, the holding company for much of the Broadgate complex, even if its Stanhope bid succeeded, because Broadgate Properties was a joint venture.