The High Court decided that the FB Baily Thomas Provident Fund, set up by Mansfield's founders to represent the group's past and present employees, should be permitted to sell its 18.4 per cent shareholding. The move had sparked objections from the brewer's staff and local pressure groups, who feared Mansfield jobs might be cut if the sale went through.
Alan Meale, Mansfield's Labour MP who spearheaded the Save Mansfield Brewery campaign, said: "Sadness is my first reaction [to the ruling] and anger is the second." He said the decision of Richard Chadburn, the fund's former trustee, to divest the stake amounted to "gross treachery" and added that lawyers for the fund's beneficiaries were examining the ruling to see if there were grounds for an appeal.
Although W&D has pledged to keep Mansfield's brewery open for two years following the takeover, it is widely thought that the facility, which employs 579 people, will then close. W&D has also said it will axe 250 jobs in head office positions where an overlap is created in the enlarged group.
W&D did not comment on yesterday's ruling, saying it was "a matter between Mansfield and the trustees". If the decision had been reversed, it would not have threatened the takeover as W&D has received approval for the deal from 70 per cent of Mansfield shareholders. But it would have left W&D in an uncomfortable position, with the Provident Fund controlling about 8 per cent of the brewer's shares, and under an obligation to look after the group's employees.
The W&D takeover gives the combined group four breweries - at Wolverhampton, Burton-on-Tent, Hartlepool and Mansfield - almost 2,000 pubs and a 5 per cent share of the British beer market with brands such as Cameron's, Marston's and Mansfield bitter.
Mansfield's board yesterday repeated its recommendation that shareholders accept the takeover offer. W&D shares closed up 1p at 365p.