Sykes hits out at Murray's record

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ANDREWS SYKES, the industrial services company, yesterday launched a fierce attack on its dissident shareholder Jacques Murray and his company Nu-Swift.

In a statement designed to undermine Mr Murray's management record, Sykes highlighted certain aspects of Nu-Swift's accounting procedure and relationship with shareholders.

Mr Murray, Sykes' biggest shareholder with 26 per cent, has called an extraordinary meeting for next Friday in a bid to unseat the chairman, David Hubbard, and a non-executive director, David Crowe, and replace them with his own supporters. But his attempt received a double blow yesterday when Royal Insurance, which holds 8.19 per cent of Sykes, and Postel, with 5 per cent, backed the existing board.

Sykes' statement drew attention to Nu-Swift's failure to mention in its 1990 accounts that it had bought a pounds 4.6m aircraft. The purchase was detailed in the 1991 accounts, when Nu-Swift said it had been 'inadvertently omitted'.

The statement also said that Nu-Swift, a fire protection company where Mr Murray holds 66 per cent, had spent pounds 115m on property investment without notifying minority shareholders. Mr Hubbard said: 'You really cannot change the nature of a company without asking shareholders.' He said the statement was not to suggest mismanagement. 'We simply want to warn shareholders what has happened in other companies where Mr Murray has had a dominant influence.'

Mr Murray, a wealthy French industrialist, was unavailable for comment. His business colleague, Andre Chudnoff, said Sykes was trying to evade its own poor financial record. He refused to talk about the aircraft purchase, but said the move into property was approved at the annual meeting. Another of Sykes' complaints, that Nu-Swift had no non-executive directors, would be dealt with, he said.

Royal Insurance said Mr Murray's move was an attempt to gain control without making a formal bid. 'The growing trend for overseas investors to seek control of quoted UK companies through a minority shareholding should be vigorously resisted,' it said.