Accusations fly at Interflora showdown

Rebel Interflora florists declared themselves confident that they will be able to derail an agreed £23.2m buyout by 3i, the private equity group, after more than 100 members attended a sometimes angry meeting to discuss the plans yesterday.

Supporters of the management traded accusations with the rebels at the meeting near Coventry, with management accusing the dissidents of having no alternative plan for stopping the loss of market share to the likes of Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

Dissidents accused the board, which will take a 14 per cent stake in the new business, of selling Interflora on the cheap.

Interflora's chairman, Myra Williamson, said she would investigate suggestions that one member of the rebel group abused her seat on the board, to which she had been invited in the hope of softening opposition. The member, Mari Lawrence, said she had signed up to additional delivery areas after seeing only information that was freely available to all members.

Rebels have just over two weeks to persuade fellow florists to scupper a deal that will hand control of the flower delivery network to an outsider for the first time in its 80-year history. The board needs approval from 75 per cent of members in a vote scheduled for 23 January.

David Adair, the rebel leader, said he expected the vote to be "closer to 50-50", and the board continues to believe the result is too close to call. Mr Adair said: "The majority of the room were not in favour of the proposal. The board were there with some vociferous people backing them and it all got a little bit personal, but it was at least on opportunity for members to examine the other side of the argument."

However, in a blow to the opposition, one of the original leaders of the dissidents, Tony Michael, has written to members backing the deal, which he says is the best available.

Under the proposals, Interflora's members will receive £5,000 to £12,000 for their stakes and can choose whether to take the cash or reinvest it for up to a 35 per cent stake in the new company. 3i will control 49 per cent.