Watford takeover bid denied after billionaire Ashcroft raises stake

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By Tom Collomosse, PA Sport

Lord Michael Ashcroft is to become the new majority shareholder of Watford. Lord Ashcroft - a billionaire and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party - is to own up to 42 per cent of the Watford Leisure Plc shares as part of a rights issue designed to raise £6.2m for the club.

Watford hope the rights issue will wipe out their debt - they announced losses of £2.1m for the 2004-05 financial year - and provide the club with funds as they attempt to win promotion to the Premiership this season.

Lord Ashcroft said that his investment did not herald a takeover campaign. "Watford is a good business that is making steady and sure progress," he said. "My investment will hopefully enable [the chairman] Graham Simpson and [the chief executive] Mark Ashton to take the business to the next level and beyond."

Lord Ashcroft was a major donor to and treasurer of the Tory Party from 1998 to 2001. He has other business connections in Belize. He already had an interest in Watford Leisure through his Fordwat investment vehicle, which had held a 6.5 per cent shareholding.

"This rights issue is an important milestone for Watford," Simpson, the club chairman, said. "It ensures ... we have the working capital to move forward."