Ronson receives takeover approach from mystery bidder

Ronson, the troubled lighters to branded clothes group which has just undergone a big board upheaval, saw its shares rise 2.5p to 21p yesterday after it revealed it had received an unsolicited takeover approach.

Mystery surrounded the identity of the possible bidder, although it is definitely not Howard Hodgson, the recently ousted chief executive.

Mr Hodgson, who still owns just under 2 per cent of Ronson and has previously been linked to bid rumours, said yesterday: "It genuinely isn't me. The situation is that I am at a complete loss as to who it would be."

The flamboyant Mr Hodgson was stripped of his executive duties in June and left the board at Ronson's annual meeting on Wednesday in the wake of the departure of his girlfriend and acting finance director, Christine Pickles.

Shaun Dowling, the company doctor who moved up to become executive chairman after Mr Hodgson left, refused to give any clue as to who was making the latest approach.

However, he said he hoped the issue would be resolved "before too long" as it was "slightly disruptive to the normal course of business".

Speculation last night centred on the Albion Consortium, a New York-based fund which invests in smaller British companies. The company helped to underwrite last November's rights issue to raise pounds 10.4m at 25p a share and now has an 18 per cent stake. Despite the fact that the shares have been as low as 12.5p, Albion is thought to have turned down an offer from a large Far Eastern group in the region of 26p a share.

Mr Dowling refused to comment on the speculation, but added: "I couldn't disagree with the logic that someone else could develop [Ronson] better than us. They would have more resources than us. I couldn't deny that."

Early last month, Ronson announced that profits of pounds 2.76m had turned into a loss of pounds 2.17m in 1996, some pounds 200,000 higher than forecast in an earlier profit warning. The group suffered a pounds 900,000 write-off for bad debts and warned of further "significant" losses in the first half.