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O'Toole: we'll keep hold of UK franchises

NATIONAL EXPRESS, the troubled transport group, will not give up its hold on its remaining franchises, defying transport secretary Lord Adonis.<br /><br />In the latest twist in a saga which has seen National Express&rsquo; chief executive Richard Bowker stand down and the government announce a nationalisation of the company&rsquo;s east coast rail line, the group&rsquo;s acting chief executive said it would keep its east Anglia franchise on until 2014.<br /><br />The company, which is set&nbsp; to pay just &pound;72m for reneging on a &pound;1.4bn contract to run the ill-fated east coast line, came under fire from Adonis, who threatened to strip National Express of east Anglia and c2c, its remaining rail franchises.<br /><br />But Ray O&rsquo;Toole, chief operating officer and acting chief executive, said the &pound;72m was all the group was liable for and added National Express would be allowed to extend its contract on east Anglia as it had hit performance targets on the line.<br /><br />Lord Pannick QC is advising National Express on Adonis&rsquo; threat to rid it of its franchises.<br /><br />The company has said it believes the Department for Transport (DfT) has no grounds to make the claims.<br /><br />Pannick&rsquo;s high profile cases include representing Northern Rock shareholders in their High Court appeal for payouts, and representing Pfizer in its case against the Health Secretary on Viagra distribution.<br /><br />Meanwhile, it is understood that the DfT entered into bailout talks with National Express over the east coast line, despite Adonis&rsquo; claims that there had been no such discussions.<br /><br /><strong>FAST FACTS NATIONAL EXPRESS<br /></strong>National Express owns two rail franchises: c2c and east Anglia. Its third, the east coast line, is set to be nationalised.<br /><br />It is liable to pay &pound;72m, despite having promised the government &pound;1.4bn for the line<br />