Tomkins begins inquiry into chief executive

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The Independent Online

Tomkins, the troubled industrial conglomerate, has begun an investigation into the financial affairs of Greg Hutchings, its chief executive, after a number of "serious allegations" were made by shareholders late last week.

Tomkins, the troubled industrial conglomerate, has begun an investigation into the financial affairs of Greg Hutchings, its chief executive, after a number of "serious allegations" were made by shareholders late last week.

David Newlands, who took over as chairman in the summer after first serving as a non-executive director, ordered the inquiry on Friday shortly after the allegations were made. The company's auditor, Arthur Andersen, has also been called in.

Mr Newlands said: "All the matters will be thoroughly investigated. I have already brought in the company's auditors and if necessary I will bring in the lawyers as well."

A spokesman for the company would not confirm the nature of the allegations or put a timescale to the inquiry. However, a number of questions were raised at the company's annual general meeting two weeks ago concerning ownership of four corporate jets and two London flats. The company denied it owned the flats but was later forced to admit they did indeed belong to Tomkins.

The London apartments, including one in Eaton Place, and the jets were bought by the company in the early 1980s.

At the annual meeting Mr Hutchings was seen to fumble answers to questions about the assets, and appeared to deny that the company owned the jets. The questions came from a representative from JO Hambro Capital Management.

Later Tomkins acknowledged that it did own the jets but said they were leased to an operator called Chauffair and had not been used by the company for some years. Yesterday the spokesman said the jets were now in the process of being sold.

"These are not company jets, these jets are leased out to Chauffair," he said. "People have used them on a third-party basis, [paying] the company a certain amount of money to go on them."

Mr Hutchings had also appeared to deny that the company owned a flat in Peninsular Heights on London's South Bank, the same block where Lord Archer has his penthouse apartment with its views across the Thames to Westminster. Mr Hutchings acted as treasurer to Lord Archer's Greater London Forum during the run-up to Lord Archer's campaign to be mayor of London.

The spokesman said that both flats, including the one at Eaton Place, were used mainly for business meetings.

Some investors have questioned whether either the flats or the jets are appropriate for a company that has seen its stock market value plummet in recent years. Mr Hutchings was earlier this year forced to split the role of chairman and chief executive after mounting pressure in the City.

According to the company, the new allegations are part of a continuing feud between two private individuals and Mr Hutchings. However, the attempt to oust him commanded wider support in the City and was only abandoned after the sale of Rank Hovis McDougal.

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