Wray quits at Forest and faces pounds 1m loss

NIGEL WRAY, chairman of property group, Burford, has resigned as chairman of Nottingham Forest football club to make way for Eric Barnes, deputy chairman of Great Universal Stores (GUS), one of Nottingham's biggest employers.

Mr Wray is halving his stake in the club by selling 5.7 per cent of Nottingham Forest to Mr Barnes and another 5.7 per cent to Philip Soar, the club's chief executive, who engineered Mr Wray's acquisition of the club two years ago.

Analysts estimate the sale leaves Mr Wray nursing a loss of around pounds 1m on his original investment. Forest currently faces near-certain relegation from the Premiership. Sources close to Mr Wray insist he is still committed to his ownership of Saracens, the Premiership rugby union club.

Albert Scardino, an American journalist and husband of Pearson's chief executive, Marjorie Scardino, lost out to Mr Wray in the bid battle for Forest in 1997.

Yesterday Mr Scardino said of Mr Wray's move: "The club has squandered two years. This was a tragic lost opportunity to rebuild a great community asset. Nigel Wray was never very much involved in it [the club]. It's now much worse off then when he bought in."

Mr Wray himself said: "I have come to believe more and more that the club, as a Nottingham institution, must be run locally. I am absolutely delighted that Eric Barnes has agreed to succeed me as chairman."

Property analysts estimate that Mr Wray put in about pounds 3.2m of his own money when his consortium won the bid battle for Forest in the spring of 1997, buying Forest for pounds 16m.

His sale of 2,515,000 ordinary shares at a price of 28p per share to Mr Barnes yesterday and the same number to Mr Soar should give him pounds 1.2m, leaving him nursing a loss of around pounds 1m on his original investment. He still owns 9.1 per cent of Forest's shares, worth around pounds 1m at yesterday's market price. The shares yesterday fell 1.5p to 25p.

Mr Wray's consortium included Irving Scholar, the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman, and fellow London property developer Julian Markham. Mr Scholar continues to make most of the footballing decisions for Forest from his home in Monaco, while Mr Soar manages the business side.

Burford, the property developer, continues to be Mr Wray's main interest. He sold half his stake last September but still owns 5 per cent of the pounds 450m company.

He is also involved with Prestbury, another property developer run by his old colleague Nick Leslau, as well as the fashionable London restaurant, Pharmacy, which he runs together with Damien Hirst, the artist of pickled- sheep fame.

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