Takeover of press group is blocked

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The Independent Online
The Government yesterday blocked the pounds 52m takeover of Home Counties Newspaper Holdings, the regional newspaper publisher, by Johnston Press.

Nigel Griffiths, consumer affairs minister, said he decided not to give his consent without requiring a report from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC).

He said the 500p-per-share buyout announced in December would give rise to a "significant increase in concentration of the ownership of regional and local newspapers in the counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

"The proposed transfer would mean that Johnston would be likely to have over half of the market for such newspapers in those counties, and a considerably higher share in some localities. I have competition concerns relating to the consequences for newspaper advertising rates in these areas," he said.

Mr Griffiths said the parties had made it clear in their application that they were not prepared to undergo an MMC inquiry. "If they wish to make another application which is not dependent on my giving consent without an MMC inquiry, they are free to do so," he added.

Johnston said in December it had acceptances for its offer representing 53.7 per cent of Home Counties' share capital.