'Mail' offers £125m for its old rival 'Express'

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The Independent Online

The owners of the Daily Mail have put in a formal bid of nearly £125m for Express Newspapers, sources close to the Mail confirmed yesterday.

The owners of the Daily Mail have put in a formal bid of nearly £125m for Express Newspapers, sources close to the Mail confirmed yesterday.

The sum is understood to include a premium the Daily Mail and General Trust believes it must pay to beat an offer of £90m to £100m from the Hinduja brothers. The premium is deemed necessary because a Mail bid would be referred to the Competition Commission, while a Hinduja sale could be concluded without referral.

The source said: "Reports that the Mail will also inject £50m a year into the Express papers over a five-year period are correct." A high level of investment would contrast greatly with the management by Lord Hollick's United News, which has been characterised by a severe cost-cutting regime.

The Mail's desire to buy The Express papers sends the battle for ownership of the publications and their sister Daily Star on to a new plane. Until recently, buying interest seemed lacklustre, with an earlier Hinduja bid of around £75m being rejected, and the Barclay brothers walking away from a deal of complaining that they had received insufficient information about the papers' finances.

The very idea of the Mail buying The Express would have been inconceivable until recently. The Daily Express was founded 100 years ago by Arthur Pearson before becoming the property and propaganda creature of Lord Beaverbrook. Apart from a brief period of co-operation between the two titles to promote Empire Free Trade, the papers spent the rest of the twentieth century as deadly circulation rivals.

The Mail is said to be motivated by fear that its arch-rivals at the Hollinger group, which owns The Daily Telegraph, will bid for The Express. Yesterday there was no confirmation Hollinger had made an offer but its owner, Conrad Black, is sitting on a big war chest after selling all his North American papers. If he wanted, he could easily outbid the Mail. A Hollinger takeover would make particular sense in business terms, as The Express and Telegraph share the West Ferry printing operation in London's Docklands.

David Montgomery, the former chief executive of The Mirror, has also expressed interest in buying The Express.

Yesterday sources close to the Mail confirmed the group considers The Express, without West Ferry, to be "barely profitable". But they confirmed that if the group's bid is successful they would allow The Express to maintain its new pro-Labour stance. "A switch to the right would run the danger of cannibalising the Mail's readership and they would not risk that," he said.

But analysts consider the Mail would take a firmer hand in defining the overall strategy at the paper than is evident under Lord Hollick. By trying to switch towards a left-leaning, metropolitan and younger readership the editor, Rosie Boycott, has been going against all the paper's traditions. In the past it was Conservative, with its readership based in the North, and older.