Writs may fly after Grabiner stalks out of United

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Stephen Grabiner, the United News & Media executive who has been appointed to run British Digital Broadcasting, the television group, has left United News without working out his contract and may launch legal action against the company.

Mr Grabiner is believed to have cleared his desk earlier this week after becoming increasingly frustrated with the delays in negotiating his departure from the group. He was named as chief executive of BDB, the joint venture between broadcasters Carlton and Granada, at the end of January. At the time United News said Mr Grabiner would work out his 12-month notice period, keeping him at United News until the beginning of 1999 - several months after BDB's planned launch date.

United News and BDB have subsequently been negotiating the release of Mr Grabiner from his contract. Industry analysts believe that Lord Hollick, United's chief executive, hoped to use Mr Grabiner as a bargaining chip to improve his position in the digital television market. United submitted a bid to operate Digital Terrestrial Television, but lost out to BDB.

The deadlock is understood to have frustrated Mr Grabiner, who was poached from Telegraph Group, the newspaper publisher, two years ago to run United's newspaper interests. His responsibilities were also reduced substantially last month when United completed the sale of its regional newspaper division, effectively leaving Mr Grabiner in charge of little more than the Express titles and the Daily Star.

Mr Grabiner is understood to be considering using the disposal as grounds for legal action. One industry source said: "You might think that having three- quarters of the profits sold from under you is akin to constructive dismissal. They certainly have not offered him a position of equivalent status."

It is unclear whether Mr Grabiner is preparing to take up his post at BDB ahead of schedule. The broadcaster, which is planning the nationwide launch of its 30-channel service in the autumn, is currently being run by Nigel Warmsley, a Carlton executive.

Mr Grabiner could not be reached for comment last night. A spokesman for United said the company had nothing new to add.