Responding to questions about incidents that led to him being struck off as a solicitor 22 years ago, Mr Harkavy said: 'I have made no secret of those events. I did nothing for personal gain, and it is a very long time ago. I think the company's public relations advisers are conducting a dirty tricks campaign which appears to show that they're rattled. It seems ironic to me that shareholders are paying a public relations company to make allegations about people who are only trying to help shareholders. Denis (Woodhams, the chairman of the shareholder group) and I are trying to put forward a case for shareholders. We are having to pay our own costs, and yet the costs of a campaign to blacken our names are being paid for out of shareholders' funds.'
Stories have emerged in the past few days about how Mr Woodhams, when a hotel operator within the group, increased his expenses even though the hotel was getting into financial trouble, and how he ran a plane on expenses.
On Mr Harkavy's advice, Mr Woodhams went to the High Court on Friday with a petition under section 459 of the Companies Act, which is designed to protect shareholders against unfair prejudice. A provisional hearing, to see whether shareholders have a case, has been set for January 11.
Tomorrow's shareholders' meeting is expected to be a tense one, not least for the chief executive, Andrew Coppel, with many shareholders voting against approving the company's report and accounts, which include a contentious valuation of the group's assets that is pounds 500m lower than an earlier valuation.
Scottish Amicable, which holds more than 3 per cent of the shares, has said that it might well vote against accepting the report and accounts. Holders of mortgage debentures have also threatened to question the valuation. Under certain conditions, they have the right to enforce their security.
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