Oddbins in talks to buy up remaining Unwins stores

Threshers, the UK's largest off-licence group, snapped up some 200 of Unwins' 350 stores shortly before Christmas, pledging to save the jobs of as many as 1,200 of Unwins' 1,800 staff.

A deal with Oddbins - which is owned by the French group, Castel - for the bulk of the remaining stores could provide hope for many of the remaining 600 staff.

Unwins' administrators, KPMG, are keen to sell off as many of the remaining stores as possible in one deal. However, it is believed they are still considering offers from a number of bidders who want to buy smaller packages of stores.

Phillip Cook, chairman of DM Private Equity, which bought Unwins for £32m nine months ago and played an integral role in the company last year, is known to be among the bidders for some or all of the remaining stores.

Mr Cook came under criticism from employees at the time of the Unwins collapse due to his decision to go on holiday to Dubai just days later.

Unwins was placed in administration just a week before Christmas, after its banker, HBOS, pulled the plug on its lending facilities. On the same day, DM said that it had discovered a £13.5m hole in the company's accounts, adding that it planned to launch legal action against Unwins' former directors, auditors and shareholders.

Former directors and shareholders believe the claims are unfounded, saying DM was made aware of the state of the business when they bought it, and was warned that the company would need a cash injection and a restructuring.

DM said that after completing the deal and getting a closer look at the books, it discovered that Unwins' net assets were worth £10.8m less than they had been led to believe, while accounting errors had produced a further £2.4m of unexpected costs.

The former board, however, is believed to contend that after the purchase, DM revalued Unwins as though it was no longer a going concern, which created the discrepancy in the two sides' numbers.

David Massey, a director of DM who was one of the key players in the Unwins bid, quit the board four months ago, just six months after joining. He was believed to be unhappy with the way the venture was moving.

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