M&B asks Panel for help with its rebels

THE scale of the turmoil at Mitchells &amp; Butlers became clear yesterday after the pubs group asked the City takeover watchdog to decide whether rebel shareholders were attempting to seize control of its board.<br /><br />M&amp;B called on the Takeover Panel after Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis, who controls 23 per cent of the group, blocked the appointment of chairman Archie Norman. <br /><br />The group has struggled to fill the slot since Drummond Hall said he was stepping down. <br /><br />But it recently announced the appointment of City heavyweight Norman, who was also this month recruited as chairman of troubled broadcaster ITV. <br /><br />But Lewis, through his investment vehicle Piedmont vetoed the move, along with the backing of Irish horseracing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus, who control 17.5 per cent of the group through their Elpida vehicle.<br /><br />M&amp;B believes that the move &ldquo;could potentially undermine the independence and effectiveness of the board&rdquo;.<br /><br />M&amp;B has asked the Panel to rule on whether Lewis and Elpida are acting in concert and ?&ndash; given that together they control more than a 30 per cent chunk of the company &ndash; if they should either mount a full takeover bid or sell down their stake to below 30 per cent. <br /><br />Lewis also has two representatives on M&amp;B&rsquo;s board, former investment banker Richard McGuire and Doug McMahon.<br /><br />Last January, Lewis vetoed M&amp;B&rsquo;s plans to issue new shares without allowing existing shareholders first rights, showing that he was not prepared to be a silent investor.