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Shareholder hits back in M&B battle

Steve Dinneen
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MITCHELLS and Butlers’ major shareholder yesterday launched a scathing attack on the firm’s board members in which he accused them of blowing £500m.

A letter to shareholders by billionaire Joe Lewis accused the board of presiding over “a culture of obfuscation and excess” and said fresh blood was required to rescue the company.

Joe Lewis’ investment vehicle Piedmont has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the M&B board for over a year, with some members saying there is a plot to take over control of the company.

The row boiled over yesterday when the board urged shareholders to reject two of four new nominees for non-executive directors proposed by Piedmont, which owns 23 per cent of the company.

The board wrote an open letter asking shareholders to reject Mike Balfour and Jeremy Blood but accept outgoing Debenhams chairman John Lovering and Simon Burke.

They claimed the nominees were not independent of Lewis and may not represent the best interests of the company.

Piedmont yesterday defended i ts candidates, telling shareholders: “To suggest these individuals are not independent is not only totally false, it is an insult to the reputation of the candidates.”

A separate letter signed by the four nominees also denied their independence had been compromised. They said they needed to be voted in as a group in order to make the radical changes needed to take the company forward. Shareholders will vote on the new members at their forthcoming annual meeting.