Pure genius? Saunders bids for QPR

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The Independent Online
Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness chief, is heading a bid to buy Queen's Park Rangers, the London football club put up for sale by its owner, Richard Thompson.

Mr Saunders, who went to prison for trying to manipulate share prices during a takeover bid, yesterday wrote to Mr Thompson expressing his interest in buying the club, which was relegated last season from the Premier League. He is understood to have secured financial backing which would be routed through a stock market-quoted vehicle.

Mr Thompson is reportedly asking pounds 10m for the club. Under Mr Saunders's plan he would chair the bid from a public company which he refuses to name. His backers would be leading shareholders in the company.

The former Guinness boss was convicted in 1990 of an illegal share support scheme during its controversial pounds 2.7bn takeover of Distillers in 1987. He was sentenced to five years in prison but on appeal he was released after serving just 10 months in Ford Open Prison, Sussex, when the court was told that he was suffering from pre-senile dementia.

His return to full health and business life - now aged 60 he runs a venture capital company - was also marked yesterday by a dramatic appearance at the Guinness annual shareholders' meeting at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, in west London.

He intervened to ask why "when the World Health Organisation has expressed concern over alcohol, and pressures are rising on drinking and driving, are you continuing to focus on alcoholic drinks only and not considering soft drinks?"

The ties between Mr Saunders and QPR are close. When he ran Guinness, it was a large sponsor of the club and Mr Saunders sat on its board. He is a long-time QPR supporter.

"The finance is available, he is a former director of the club from the pre-Richard Thompson era," said an adviser to Mr Saunders. Another source close to the ex-Guinness head said: "It is well known that Mr Saunders has a close association with the club." Mr Saunders would not comment on his move for QPR.

He faces possible competition from another high-profile business figure, Chris Wright, the multi-millionaire founder of Chrysalis records.

Saunders returns, page 19