Barclays bid for 'Express' ends in acrimony

The future of the Express Group of newspapers became a two-way battle yesterday when millionaire media tycoons the Barclay brothers said they were withdrawing from bidding.

The future of the Express Group of newspapers became a two-way battle yesterday when millionaire media tycoons the Barclay brothers said they were withdrawing from bidding.

The Barclays' Scottish media group Press Holdings, which owns The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Business, had offered £75m to £100m for the group, but were rebuffed by the United News & Media (UN&M), owner of the Express group.

Press Holdings added that it made its offer on 18 September and, once this was rejected, had requested financial information about the group to consider what action to take next.

"So far this request has been ignored," the group said in a statement. "In the circumstances and in order to prevent further speculation, Press Holdings has no alternative but to withdraw its interest in the Express Newspaper group and to consider the matter closed."

The withdrawal leaves a possible two-way fight for the newspaper group, with former Mirror chief executive David Montgomery believed to be up against the Hinduja Group, an Indian conglomerate that hasexpressed a strong interest.

Insiders at The Express said the news of the Barclays' withdrawal had been greeted with some relief. Editor Rosie Boycott considered it a "betrayal" to allow the now left-leaning newspaper to be sold to the Barclays, whose political sympathies lean to the right.

"But we're not convinced that this is the last we'll see of them," said a senior source. "This may be part of their bargaining tactics."

However, a source close to the Barclays was adamant that the move was not a ploy, saying the bid had been withdrawn "on principle" after the Barclays' offer had been met with "obfuscation, unprofessional behaviour and disdain".

The Barclays source said the brothers were also concerned that there was no separate accounting title by title for Express Newspapers, which comprises The Express, the Sunday Express and Daily Star, and said they believed their offer had never been properly put to the board. "Hollick basically put a serious bid in his back pocket to use as a bargaining tool. But we don't believe there's a credible alternative."

Last week, UN&M said it had received "a number of unsolicited offers" for the Express newspapers that, as a publicly listed company, it was obliged to consider. A spokesman said yesterday that the company had no further formal response beyond that statement.

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