'Secret deals' questioned in struggle for the 'Independent'

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The Independent Online
THE LARGEST individual shareholder in the Independent on Sunday and the Independent yesterday demanded details of any secret deals between Mirror Group Newspapers and the consortium that won the battle for control of the two papers.

Liam Healy, chief executive of Dublin-based Independent Newspapers plc, which was a bidder for the two London papers, is worried that such deals could affect control of them and the price MGN would charge them for services.

The fate of the newspapers rests with the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, who must decide whether he should refer the takeover bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. He is expected to make his decision this week. Mr Healy said: 'Together with other shareholders we are prepared to work to secure the future of the Independent and the Independent on Sunday. We are happy to work with the consortium led by MGN. However, we do not know the true nature of the secret agreements between the consortium and Mirror Group Newspapers. Until we have full transparency, nobody can move to ensure that the Independent survives in its rightful way.'

The Dublin-based group put forward a plan to inject pounds 21m into the London papers, but last month the move was rejected by the consortium. The Irish group, headed by Tony O'Reilly, has 29.9 per cent of Independent shares.

Mr Healy's group still wants to take an active role to secure the titles' future and is prepared to inject funds. He said that internal research by Newspaper Publishing plc, publisher of the two papers, showed that they will be adversely affected if they are seen to be controlled by the Mirror group. 'That must not be allowed to happen. We are determined to see that fair play takes place.'

A spokesman for MGN said that the offer document for Newspaper Publishing was published late on Friday setting out full details of the consortium's discussions with the company. He said: 'That has all the details Mr Healy wants to know about discussions. We feel there is full transparency in the document and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission know about them too.'

A statement from the chapel (office branch) of the National Union of Journalists at the Independent and Independent on Sunday last night expressed 'outrage' at the terms of the consortium's takeover. 'Journalists are now deeply sceptical about the so-called safeguards to editorial freedom and believe that the paper is effectively being taken over by one entity,' it said.