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
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Sport
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn