Hunter family trust bought shares weeks before Green bid revelation

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The Independent Online

Tom Hunter, the Scottish entrepreneur and founder of Sports Division, acquired 375,000 shares in Marks & Spencer just weeks before his long-standing friend Philip Green revealed he intended to bid for the retailer.

Tom Hunter, the Scottish entrepreneur and founder of Sports Division, acquired 375,000 shares in Marks & Spencer just weeks before his long-standing friend Philip Green revealed he intended to bid for the retailer.

The stake was purchased by TB Hunter Trust, on behalf of Mr Hunter's two children, on 16 April, when shares in M&S were trading at about 270p. Last night the shareholding, which is held via a nominee account controlled by West Coast Capital, a private equity company set up by Mr Hunter and Jim McMahon, was worth £1.36m.

The stake was revealed when M&S sent letters to shareholders whose names have appeared on its register after Mr Green's revelation that he was dusting down his plans to acquire the retailer. Its actions followed the highly unusual announcement from the Financial Services Authority, the City watchdog, that it was investigating a huge surge in M&S's share price ahead of Mr Green's announcement on 27 May that he was preparing a bid.

Mr Hunter's wife disclosed the shareholding in response to one of the "section 212" notice - letters that oblige the recipient to disclose whether they have had any interest in the company's shares during the past three years - sent by M&S.

Her reply stated: "The beneficiaries of the trust are my two minor children." The four trustees, who took the decision to acquire M&S shares, are Mrs Hunter, Mr Hunter, Mr McMahon and Robert Glennie, a corporate lawyer.

Last night Euan Hunter, a spokesman for Tom Hunter, said: "The trustees had absolutely no knowledge of Philip Green's intention to make an offer for M&S." He said the shares were acquired "as a long-term investment. It was just part of the normal course of affairs of a children's trust". It was the first time the trust had decided to invest in the retailer for at least three years, Mrs Hunter's reply revealed.

M&S has written to many of Mr Green's business associates in an attempt to glean whether they bought its shares ahead of the Bhs owner's announcement.

Robin Saunders, the former WestLB banker who took a 0.5 per cent personal stake in Bhs; Allan Leighton, a Bhs director; Robert Tchenguiz, the Iranian businessman who is rumoured to have called on Mr Green for financial backing when he attempted to buy Selfridges last summer; Robert's father, Victor Tchenguiz; and Nick Leslau, the property entrepreneur with links to West Coast Capital, have all replied, denying having had any interest in M&S shares during the past three years.

Lord Grabiner, the chairman of Arcadia, initially denied owning any M&S shares, as did Tina Green, Philip's wife. But both wrote back, clarifying their position: Lord Grabiner's son Daniel owns a small stake, while Tina - who infamously acquired 9.5 million shares in M&S on the eve of Mr Green's first attempt to buy the company in 1999 - said she owned one share.

According to information filed with M&S, the Reuben brothers, the billionaire property investors also acquainted with Mr Green, also acquired options over 760,000 shares in the high street giant on 15 April. Although neither Simon nor David Reuben holds any stock in M&S, one of their companies - Reuben Brothers Ltd - bought the call options from Bear Stearns in April.

Mr Hunter and Mr Green first worked together in the mid-1990s, when the Bhs owner took a stake in Mr Hunter's sportswear chain after the merger of his Olympus Sports group with Sports Division. Mr Hunter earlier this year gave away £100m - one fifth of his fortune - to his charitable foundation as part of a long-term commitment.

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