Railtrack investors press button on legal action

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The Independent Online

Railtrack shareholders last night began legal action against the Government after Stephen Byers refused to hand over documents relating to his decision to put the company into administration.

Lawyers acting for the Railtrack Shareholders Action Group were instructed to serve a writ on the Treasury Solicitor demanding that the documents be handed over.

The move followed a letter to the RSAG from the Treasury Solicitor making it clear that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions had no intention of handing over the documents voluntarily.

Railtrack shareholders intend to use the documents to mount a case of "misfeasance in public office" against Mr Byers, alleging that he abused his powers by putting the company into administration and, in effect, confiscating the assets of shareholders.

The RSAG originally set Mr Byers a deadline of 31 December to provide copies of the documents which include minutes of meetings within the Government, with its advisers and with Railtrack. A second deadline for handing over the documents was due to expire today.

Stephen Haslam, the chairman of the RSAG and a director of Fidelity, one of Railtrack's biggest shareholders, said: "We cannot put up with the DTLR's delaying tactics any longer. They have given us no option but to pursue the matter in the courts and this we will do."

Mr Haslam said that if, as Mr Byers has maintained all along, his actions had been legal and correct, then the documents shareholders have requested should prove this. "The fact that we have to apply to the court to see them raises questions. I am forced to the conclusion that the Government has something to hide," he said.

Railtrack shareholders have been demanding compensation of at least 360p a share which would cost the Government in the region of £1.9bn but Mr Byers has maintained that they will not get any further money out of taxpayers.