Cameron Hall keeps Newcastle waiting

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The Independent Online

Close observers of Newcastle United, the quoted Premier League football club, are concerned at the lack of financial information available about Cameron Hall Developments, the club's dominant shareholder.

Cameron Hall and related family companies control 47 per cent of Newcastle United shares. Its directors include Douglas Hall, a non-executive director of Newcastle United, and Russell Jones, who recently became an executive director of the club.

It is at the heart of speculation about the future of Newcastle United, which floated four years ago and has suffered a tumultuous life on the stock market, with boardroom rows, resignations and strategic U-turns.

Rumours that the club could be taken private have been played down but it is understood that Freddy Shepherd, the club's chairman, is in talks to buy a 9.9 per cent stake in the club owned by its media partner, NTL. The stake, which was bought by the heavily indebted cable group for some £16m two years ago, is now worth less than a third of that. If Mr Shepherd bought the stake it would take his holding to 17.6 per cent.

NTL also wants repayment of a £25m loan to Newcastle United which it gave the club. It is understood not to be involved in any talks that would lead to the club being taken private.

Close followers of the club's finances believe the financial position of Cameron Hall may have some bearing on the future direction of Newcastle United. Cameron Hall, which owns 22 per cent of the shares with another 25 per cent owned by a Hall family trust, has yet to file accounts for its most recent financial year, which ended in November 2000. This is technically a breach of the Companies Act and could lead to the company being dissolved or its directors fined.

It is all the more peculiar because its previous accounts – only filed at Companies House in May this year – cover just four months to the end of November 1999. In that period the company made a profit of £4.89m, more than accounted for by a £5.78m profit on the sale of a stake in Newcastle United to NTL. In the previous year the group lost £9.62m. The accounts show the group owed £39.4m in loans and finance leases, of which £16.9m was payable within a year. Cameron Hall has to pay £2.72m a year in interest and repayments on two loans worth £15.1m.

City analysts were surprised at the size of the £4.5m dividends paid by Newcastle United after it made a £9m loss in the last financial year; £2.12m went to Hall family businesses or trusts. Cameron Hall's main assets are the Wynard Park housing and industrial development in Cleveland and Fantasia Park, a leisure project in Portugal. Last week a BBC team travelled to Portugal to find that no building work had started on Fantasia Park.

Mr Hall declined to talk about the delay in filing the accounts and no-one at Cameron Hall was willing to talk to the press.

Mr Hall and Mr Shepherd were forced to resign from the club's board after being caught badmouthing supporters and Newcastle women in a Spanish bordello. They were later reinstated as directors.