Osmond to face probe over ski bar purchase

Hugh Osmond, the City entrepreneur behind Punch Taverns and PizzaExpress, is to be investigated over a deal to buy a small chain of bars from a travel company that collapsed earlier this year.

The probe will centre on a tiny deal, worth less than £200,000, struck by a company called Town and Field, where Mr Osmond is a director and shareholder.

It bought the Dick's Tea Bar chain, which operates in the French resorts of Chamonix, Méribel and Val d'Isère, as well as a hotel in Verbier, in May from the ailing ski travel company Brown Rock. Mr Osmond was a shareholder in Brown Rock and had been a director of the company until days before the deal.

A few weeks later, Town and Field sold the businesses on to the Mark Warner travel group.

Brown Rock was placed in receivership in July on the application of another City figure, the former British & Commonwealth chairman John Gunn. He was one of several high-profile investors on Brown Rock's shareholder register, along with Luke Johnson, who used to be Mr Osmond's business partner, and David Page, the former chief executive of PizzaExpress. All were tempted to invest in Brown Rock in the mid-1990s when it was promoted as a fashionable skiing holiday-related business.

Mr Gunn said he was concerned about how the company had been run and how it was dealing with creditors and felt obliged to have a receiver appointed.

The receiver, Mike Bowell of MBI Equity, a firm based in Guildford, Surrey, said he had concerns about the deal to sell Dick's Tea Bar to Mr Osmond. "I can confirm that that transaction will definitely be investigated because of the timing and because it was a transaction with a related party," Mr Bowell said.

One of the aspects he will be looking at is whether Mr Osmond was able to secure a bargain because of his close relationship with the company.

Mr Osmond denies that he made any money out of Dick's Tea Bar, saying he bought the business to help Brown Rock financially.

"This was a private investment in a company Hugh liked," said a spokesman for Sun Capital Partners, Mr Osmond's private equity business. "He acquired the bars in an attempt to keep the business afloat but in the end it was not enough. He paid a full price for the business as anyone who investigates will find out."

The price paid for Dick's Tea Bar was so small Mr Osmond could not remember the figure, a spokesman said. The exact price has not been released but is understood to be less than £200,000, a fraction of Brown Rock's debts which stood at over £2.4m when it went into receivership.

Martin Thompson, the chairman of Brown Rock, said the sale to Mr Osmond was a distressed deal, which the company contemplated only after two previous deals to sell the entire group had fallen apart. "In the environment we were in, any price was a good price," he said.

Mr Thompson, the former head of the travel group Abercrombie & Kent, was brought into the company in 2000 when it was already running into difficulty.

He entered into talks with one travel group in 2001 only for the deal to be dashed in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks, and then was close to selling Brown Rock to TUI, the German travel group, when the Iraq war intervened.

The assets of two of Brown Rock's businesses, Meriski and The Ski Company, were also sold before the group went into receivership. However, they were not sold to related parties and Mr Bowell is unlikely to investigate them.

Mr Osmond, 41, came to prominence when he joined with Luke Johnson in expanding and floating PizzaExpress. On his own, he struck a deal to buy Allied Domecq's pubs business, which floated as Punch Taverns last year, making him a multi-millionaire. He made an unsuccessful attempt earlier this year to stop the demerger of Six Continents.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there