Oasis court battle is on again

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GRAHAM and Edwina Brown, the founders of the women's fashion chain, Oasis Stores, have won the right to appeal against a High Court decision in a long-running legal battle they have with the company.

In 1996, they issued writs for damages against the directors of Oasis, including brothers Maurice and Michael Bennett, the company itself, and Apax Partners, venture capitalists. The Browns alleged the company and directors committed fraud, breaches of financial responsibility and conspiracy.

But in February, Judge Rattee struck out the Browns' claim against the company, and one of the directors, on the grounds it was inadmissible. He refused leave to appeal. If that original decision stands, the Browns will lose their claim that the entire assets of the pounds 80m company should be returned to them.

But now Lord Justice Robert Walker in the Court of Appeal has decided to grant the Browns leave to appeal. He stated: "The judge's decision to strike out the claim against Oasis Stores plc raises serious issues as to the limits of proprietary restitution remedies, which merit the attention of the Court of Appeal."

Judge Rattee ruled that the claim against one of the directors, David Sarson, was without merit. However, Lord Justice Robert Walker said the Browns were allowed to appeal against the ruling concerning Mr Sarson.

Mr Barry Abrahamson, the solicitor for the Browns, said: "We are confident that we have a very strong case."

A spokesman for Oasis said that the directors of the company had no comment to make about the latest development. However, in the past the group has always denied that the Browns' legal claims had any merit.

The Browns' claim follows the arrival of the Bennetts, experienced retailers, to help the group's expansion. But instead the company ran up losses, and in 1991 it was forced into liquidation. After the business went bust a consortium, which included the Bennetts, bought it out of receivership for pounds 1.6m. Three years later the group was floated at a value of pounds 77m.