Northern Rock: 'They must feel very let down'

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The Independent Online

As venues go, it wasn't the obvious choice for a business meeting. Last month Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena played host to an Abba tribute band, and this weekend it will welcome the strongmen of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Yesterday the 11,000-seater hall was the venue for a much milder showdown as shareholders and board members of Northern Rock convened for their extraordinary general meeting.

Suits and ties replaced Spandex as Rock board members struggled to appease shareholders who wanted assurances over the bank's future and wrestled with the possibility that the bank could be nationalised.

Some 600 shareholders had turned up to register their vote on resolutions proposed by the bank's two major shareholders – SRM and RAB Capital – which would block Northern Rock selling its assets and issuing high numbers of new shares without their say-so.

It was grey outside and it was expected to be much the same in the arena, but, as the meeting got under way, that was not the case. At one point, the crowd, which looked comical in such a large hall, even managed a laugh. "I've taken on the second toughest job in Newcastle," said Rock's chairman, Bryan Sanderson – a reference to the managerial situation at nearby St James' Park. His topical wisecrack met with stifled laughter. Perhaps some in the audience realised this was not a laughing matter. Many have lost thousands.

But in a city entrenched in football, it wasn't a surprise when some of the sporting vernacular crept in. "What a load of rubbish," yelled one shareholder as the board tried to answer questions.

Afterwards Northern Rock's chairman and chief executive answered questions from the media in a bar above the arena. When asked if he was surprised that shareholders had not directed more anger at the board, Mr Sanderson said he was. "I thought they behaved very well indeed considering... a bunch of them must feel very let down."

And then they left. As if to underline the absurdity of the day, three hours after the end of a key meeting about the future of Britain's biggest casualty of the credit crunch, the hall was converted into a basketball court, ready for a match between the Newcastle Eagles and Everton Tigers.

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