Who's Suing Whom: Sheffield Utd stays out of court

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The Independent Online
SHEFFIELD UNITED narrowly avoided a court battle with its own chairman last week over a proposed pounds 4m capital raising exercise. The reverberations may lead to a change of ownership at the football club today.

Carlo Colombotti, the chairman of Sheffield United, meets with the rest of the club's board today to consider appointing a new stockbroker and to hammer out a new format for the placing and open offer.

Sources close to the club suggest the meeting may allow Michael McDonald, who was bought out as chairman and owner of Sheffield United by Mr Colombotti in November, to buy back in and recover control of the club.

The chairmanship of Mr Colombotti, who was born in Tonypandy, Wales, has not been a happy one. When he attempted to buy Mr McDonald's 13 per cent stake last autumn the deal resulted in a dispute with the club's brokers, Collins Stewart, who then resigned. In the event Mr McDonald was left with 10 per cent of the club and remained a director. Mr McDonald holds his stake via his company Texas Group Plc.

Then two weeks ago Mr Colombotti, who runs his own law firm in London's West End - Amhurst Brown Colombotti - issued a writ against the club, Mr McDonald, Texas Group and two other directors.

Mr Colombotti was angry that they had raised doubts over his ability to underwrite the capital raising. He challenged the validity of the previous board meeting, which he said he had been banned from attending.

Peace broke out at a subsequent board meeting last Monday and Mr Colombotti withdrew his writ. A club spokesman described the rift as "a little spat". The legal action was also in the name of Blades Italia, a company co-owned by Mr Colombotti and two local businessmen who are keen Sheffield United fans, Philip Wood of Peter Wood Group, and Stuart Johnson.

The board meets again today and sources close to the club suggest Mr McDonald may attempt to buy the club back from Mr Colombotti.

THE THIRD week of a trial begins today of an action brought by 10 companies against a photocopier supplier that they say overcharged them for renting photocopying equipment over a four-year period in the early 1990s.

The companies, which include Trust House Forte, Lee Cooper and The Officer's Association, are claiming a total of pounds 600,000 in compensation from A:Copy (UK) Plc, a part of IKON Office Solutions, an American-owned giant that rents out 70,000 photocopiers in the UK.

The claim is for damages for fraud, breach of contract and misrepresentation, and centres on the activities of salesmen at Benworth, a subsidiary of Southern Business Group, which was in turn bought out by IKON in 1995.

In the first week of the trial, the High Court in the Strand heard that Benworth sacked four salesmen and two accounts clerks after it had discovered that they had fraudulently inflated meter readings to inflate their commissions.

The salesmen were paid on commission, and the Court heard how they registered higher meter readings on the rented photocopiers to make it look as if customers were using more copies than contracted for.

That resulted in some customers paying a one-off extra charge for copies that they had not actually used, and meant that some took out new contracts with higher minimum copy volumes than they needed.

The 10 corporate customers concerned are now claiming back the money they say they overpaid to Benworth. Last week the companies opened their case, and this Tuesday they will start presenting their evidence. A period of over 60 days has been put aside for the trial.

IN A VIVID demonstration of the complexities that can face an executor when a person leaves an ambiguous will, National Westminster Bank has been forced to take legal action to clarify which of 15 different people and bodies, including two schools and a church, are eligible to receive gifts under a recent will.

NatWest is the Executor and Trustee of the will, dated 5 July 1979, and codicil dated 12 September 1985 of Eric Wilton Simpson.

NatWest has issued a writ requesting the court to rule on whether Mr Simpson left his estate to be divided between five individuals, or to Tideswell Town Council, in Buxton, Derbyshire, for the benefit of Tideswell's elderly, or to half a dozen or so other trusts.

For instance, one area of confusion is whether Mr Simpson's reference in his codicil to a gift of pounds 10,000 for "church" is intended for the St John The Baptist Parish Church in Tideswell, or the Immaculate heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in the same town.

A similar dilemma arises over a gift of pounds 20,000 marked "bells" - to which church will it go? Another gift of pounds 8,000 marked "School" could be intended either for the Lady Manners School or the Bishop Pursglove Church of England Primary School.