QMH report survives battering: Shareholders launch bitter attacks on hotel group's directors

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SHAREHOLDERS of the debt-laden hotels group Queens Moat Houses yesterday approved the controversial report and accounts, but not before directors were savaged for their running of the company.

Time and again the new board was bitterly attacked, while John Bairstow, the former chairman being investigated by the Department of Trade and Industry, received plaudits from the gathering.

There was standing room only in the New Connaught Rooms hall, in London, where up to 1,000 attended. The queue stretched into the street and the meeting started before everyone had filed in.

Of greatest concern was the controversial pounds 861m property valuation by Jones Lang Wootton, which was pounds 500m lower than a review carried out previously by Weatherall Green & Smith.

After repeated criticism of the valuation, the senior managing partner of JLW took the unusual step of addressing the meeting. The valuation had been extensive, and based on visits to the group's 200 hotels, he said. However, he admitted that not all visits to the hotels were carried out by JLW employees. 'But we subjected their reports to particular scrutiny,' he said.

When shareholders called for the annual meeting to be adjourned until another valuation was made, Stanley Metcalfe, the chairman, warned that he had received enough proxy votes to head off such a move. 'The cash-flow position of this company is critical and any delay would be damaging,' he said.

He fended off severe criticism of the board's remuneration package and the management track records of Andrew Coppel, chief executive, and Andrew Le Poidevin, finance director. It was a case of paying the right salaries to attract the right people, he said.

As for Mr Bairstow, despite once running a board that is now being investigated for allegedly paying illegal dividends and not disclosing transactions to shareholders, he retains the loyalty of some shareholders. He was a visionary, one said. Others nodded.