Walker in court over pounds 1.8m pension claim

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The Independent Online
GEORGE WALKER, former head of Brent Walker, is taking the pubs and William Hill betting group to court in a pounds 1.8m dispute over non-payment of his pension in the latest legal battle with the Brent Walker board.

In a summons last week, Mr Walker, the pension fund trustees and his own bankruptcy administrators are petitioning the High Court to force Brent Walker to pay out his pension, estimated at pounds 130,000-pounds 150,000 per year.

The company says it cannot pay because the fund's rules do not allow payments to bankrupts. But Mr Walker, 66, who was acquitted on pounds 19m of theft and false-accounting charges 18 months ago, accuses the group and its controlling bank shareholders of pursuing a vendetta against him.

"I've got no money. I'm living off my wife," the former boxer said. "It's pure vindictiveness."

Brent Walker was rescued in 1991 by a banking syndicate led by Standard Chartered after crashing with pounds 1.5bn of debts which still burden it today.

It intends to float its 1,900-strong Pubmaster pubs chain later this year and hive off Brighton Marina and Cardiff's International Arena, leaving it with just William Hill. The betting chain, though, has been hard hit by the National Lottery, putting BW's future under continued threat. It has also been hit by a series of court actions, including Mr Walker's.

In a verdict expected in the Paris Commercial Court later this month, he is hoping to recover pounds 10m lent by one of his children's trusts to help finance the pounds 685m purchase of William Hill in 1989. He also plans to sue over pounds 30m lent in a bond issue on the condition that he remain as chief executive. The banks, he says, reneged on that when they ousted him in 1991.

The Law Debenture Trust Corporation, the new trustees of Brent Walker's Senior Executive Pension Scheme, are leading the petition to the High Court.

Mr Walker had an estimated pounds 1m in his fund by 1991 after contributing since 1957. The LDTC also claims that Brent Walker has underfunded the scheme by pounds 800,000, a large slice of which may be due to him.

He has already struck a deal to pay around one-third of the pension to his bankruptcy trustees, accountants Hacker Young and Stoy Hayward. They have also urged Brent Walker to settle with Mr Walker because of concern about the costs of the action, which would be borne by the pension fund

"If the court says pay it, we'll pay it. There's a legal issue here that has to be resolved," a Brent Walker spokesman insisted.

Ill-feeling against Mr Walker, does run high. Standard Chartered has already threatened to put the group into liquidation if he wins his French claim.