Rothermere and Desmond braced for US judge's decision

By Damian Reece City Editor
Monday 16 February 2004 01:00

Two of Britain's best known newspaper tycoons face disappointment if the case being heard this week in the Delaware court of Judge Leo Strine is eventually decided in favour of Lord Black.

Viscount Rothermere, whose family controls the Daily Mail, and his rival Richard Desmond, who owns the Daily Express, are vying to buy The Telegraph Group, which Hollinger International has been seeking to sell for about £500m.

But if Judge Strine finds in Lord Black of Crossharbour's favour, and allows through his plans to sell a controlling stake in Hollinger International to the Barclay brothers, then all bets are off. Rival plans to buy the Telegraph titles will be academic. This week's case has been brought by Hollinger International against Lord Black to try to thwart his deal with the Barclays.

Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail and General Trust is understood to have teamed up with Cinven, the private equity house, and Nicholas Berry, whose family once owned The Daily Telegraph, to mount a joint bid for the titles.

Richard Desmond, meanwhile, has long expressed his determination to own the Telegraph Group and has submitted his own bid. He already has a half share in the Westferry print works that produces the Daily Telegraph, and is trying to seize full control of the plant, giving him an upper hand in any negotiations.

Other bidders who face being disappointed by Judge Strine's pronouncement on Lord Black's legal battle against Hollinger International include Collins Stewart, the stockbroker. It plans to buy the newspaper business and then float it soon after. Other titles that Hollinger International is hoping to sell include The Chicago Sun-Timesand The Jerusalem Post.

But the Telegraph group is the jewel in the crown of Hollinger International and made an estimated £36.8m operating profit last year. The group also owns The Spectator which, together with the Telegraph titles, made a total operating profit of about £43.7m.

The Barclay Brothers' UK newspaper assets includeThe Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News.

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