Consortium raises bid for the 'Independent'

THE FIGHT for control of the Independent and the Independent on Sunday intensified yesterday when Mirror Group Newspapers and its consortium partners raised their takeover offer to pounds 3.50p a share.

The bid values the Independent's parent company, Newspaper Publishing, at pounds 73.65m and is pounds 1 a share higher than the consortium's original offer. It matches the price paid by Dr Tony O'Reilly's Irish publishing group, Independent Newspapers, for his 24.99 per cent stake.

Ian Hay Davison, Newspaper Publishing's chairman, and other independent directors were due to consider the revised offer at a meeting this morning, but were thought unlikely to endorse the bid.

The consortium consists of MGN, Espresso International Holding, publisher of Italy's La Repubblica newspaper; Prisa, publisher of Spain's El Pais newspaper; and three founding directors of Newspaper Publishing - Andreas Whittam Smith, Adrian O'Neill and Matthew Symonds.

All the indications are that Dr O'Reilly intends to keep his stake and seek a seat on the board. His intervention has upset plans for the way ownership of Newspaper Publishing was to be structured.

If Dr O'Reilly cannot be persuaded to sell, the consortium will set up a voting trust to give Prisa and EIH control of Newspaper Publishing. MGN, which was to have held 39.8 per cent of Newspaper Publishing, would now have a minimum of 25 per cent and maximum of 30 per cent. Prisa and EIH were to own 50.1 per cent, but will now hold 40 per cent. However MGN, if necessary, will sign over voting powers in enough of its shares to give Prisa and EIH a majority.

Under the new arrangements, Mr Whittam Smith, founding editor of the Independent and owner of 1.56m shares (7.45 per cent), will sell 300,000 shares rather than 75,000 to other members of the consortium.

The papers' journalists said they could not support the new offer.

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