Thomson pulls out of Nats bidding

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The Independent Online

The Government's sale of National Air Traffic Services suffered a setback last night after Thomson-CSF, the French defence group, was forced to pull out of the bidding.

The Government's sale of National Air Traffic Services suffered a setback last night after Thomson-CSF, the French defence group, was forced to pull out of the bidding.

Thomson announced its withdrawal after disclosing that it had inadvertently received "unauthorised information" about the sale from consultants engaged by Nats. The company said that meant it was no longer in compliance with the rules of the public-private partnership for Nats and had no option but to dissolve its Airsafe consortium, one of a dozen groups which has expressed an interest in taking over Nats.

Nats, which is chaired by Sir Roy McNulty, said that it was taking legal action against the consultants involved but declined to name them or give details of the information that had been disclosed. "The matter is now in the hands of our lawyers and will be pursued vigorously," added a spokesman.

Thomson-CSF sources insisted there was nothing sinister about its withdrawal, describing the incident as a "technical breach" of the PPP rules. The company stressed that the information received had been unsolicited. One insider said: "If you think about how hotly contested these privatisations are, all bidders need to seen to be whiter than white."

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