'Eyebrows raised' at Kingsmill's appointment to Telewest board

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The Independent Online

Denise Kingsmill, the deputy chairwoman of the Competition Commission, yesterday surprised the City when she was appointed a non-executive director of Telewest Communications, Britain's number two cable system operator.

Ms Kingsmill is believed to be the only active senior commission official to be appointed to the board of a FTSE 100 company. Her most recent work with the commission, where she works on a part-time basis, was chairing the investigation of Lloyds TSB's proposed £19bn takeover of Abbey National.

One media executive said: "Eyebrows have been raised. On any inquiry involving telecommunications, the internet or television she would have to withdraw."

The move is bound to cause concern at Telewest's arch-rival, BSkyB, which is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading over the terms and prices of its wholesale pay-TV contracts. Telewest is thought to have presented evidence to the OFT, which could decide to refer the issue to the Competition Commission later this year.

In its own guidelines on conflict of interest, the commission notes: "We are not only concerned with the possibility of one of our decisions being challenged in court on the grounds of conflict of interest, embarrassing as such a case would be to the commission and the member involved. The commission must be seen to be above suspicion."

It is thought that Derek Morris, chairman of the commission, would have approved Ms Kingsmill's appointment to the Telewest board.

A commission official said: "The appointment only seems anomalous if you think they [commissioners] are full time, but they are not."

Ms Kingsmill chaired the inquiry last summer into the NTL's takeover of the residential cable interests of Cable & Wireless. She was criticised during the course of the inquiry for asking media industry specialists from several national newspapers whether cable companies should be forced to offer open access to their networks. The commission eventually approved the deal without conditions.

A Telewest spokeswoman said Ms Kingsmill had been appointed because of her significant experience and expertise.

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