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Vaux sacks two directors in boardroom split

VAUX, the Sunderland brewers, yesterday sacked the chief executive Martin Grant and finance director Neal Gossage after a dramatic boardroom split over the duties of directors and the future of the company and its two breweries, in Sunderland and Sheffield.

The departure of the two directors after they lost the confidence of the board has put Vaux into takeover play, City sources said. It is understood that they opposed the majority decision last month to give a management buy-out team led by Frank Nicholson, a brother of the chairman Sir Paul Nicholson, a four-week exclusivity period to mount a pounds 70m bid to buy the breweries and 350 under-performing pubs as a going concern.

Subsequently they are said to have broken the principle of boardroom unity and approached PDFM and Mercury Asset Management, which between them control 30 per cent of the shares. They appear to have lobbied for an alternative plan to close the breweries and the depot, with the loss of 600 jobs, bulldoze the buildings and sell the sites for redevelopment.

At the same time the loan book used to finance the sale of beer to the tied houses - the contract to supply beer to the hotels and the remaining pubs - would be sold to one of the major brewers and the proceeds reinvested in the hotels or returned to shareholders.

Neither Mr Grant nor Mr Gossage was available for comment. Mr Grant joined Vaux as chief executive from Allied Domecq last June on a salary of just under pounds 200,000. Mr Gossage joined in 1995 and earned pounds 112,000 last year. Both are on two-year contracts, and the question of any compensation is in the hands of legal advisers.

The formal decision to exit brewing and concentrate on the chain of 36 Swallow hotels, the 175 managed houses and the better half of the tenanted pub estate was taken last September by a committee of non-executive directors. It was accepted by the board and the chairman.

Yesterday's departures leave the boardroom plans on course. If the buy- out team can put an acceptable package to the board by 1 March, the proposals will go to an egm for approval.

The shares shed 2p to close at 273.5p yesterday.