David Mellor set to bag fine art firm Partridge

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The Independent Online

The art dealership backed by the former Tory arts minister, David Mellor, last night looked set for victory in its battle for Partridge Fine Arts after the only other prospective bidder pulled out.

Frank Partridge, who used to work for the family antiques firm run by his father, had hoped to mount a counter-bid to stop Mr Mellor's outfit from acquiring Partridge Fine Arts. But last night, Mr Partridge announced he had abandoned his quest to drum up financial support. He gave no reason for his decision to withdraw, declining to comment.

Instead, on Monday's extraordinary meeting, Mr Partridge will vote his 7.5 per cent shareholding in support of the recommended £4m partial takeover offer from Amor Holdings, of which Mr Mellor is a director. The rest of his family has already pledged its combined 60 per cent stake in favour of the bid.

When Mr Partridge announced he was keen to trump Amor's offer, which valued the company at roughly two-thirds of its then market valuation, he said there were a lot of "angry" shareholders. Tom Russo, an institutional investor at Gardner Russo & Gardner, which has a stake in the group, believes the bid is "deficient".

Richard Ratner, retail analyst at Seymour Pierce, yesterday repeated his view that Amor's offer was a "pretty lousy deal for shareholders" but added that it was "the only thing on a rather shaky table".

Amor, which was set up by the porcelain dealer Mark Law with financial backing from the antiques powerhouse Christie's, has offered 35.4p for 51 per cent of Partridge Fine Arts. It will then delist the company, but could pay out an extra 10p to shareholders depending on how an auction of the company's stock goes. Investors must wait four years for a deferred offer to buy them out of the privately held vehicle, with no guarantee that they will see any more cash.

Mr Mellor has a 20 per cent shareholding in Amor, whilst Christopher Jemmet, a director of Friends Provident and deputy chairman of F&C Asset Management, owns a further 20 per cent, with Mr Law owning the remaining share.