Wood­ford to face High Court over Sto­bart saga

Star fund man­ager named as a wit­ness in trial over at­tempted board­room coup that gripped the City

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By Christo­pher Wil­liams

THE star fund man­ager Neil Wood­ford faces a grilling at the High Court over his role in the failed board­room coup at­tempt at Sto­bart Group ear­lier this year.

Mr Wood­ford, 58, has been named as a wit­ness for An­drew Tin­kler, the for­mer Sto­bart chief ex­ec­u­tive who was sacked as an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and then tried to un­seat the com­pany’s chair­man Iain Fer­gu­son.

Mr Tin­kler, a ma­jor share­holder, drew sup­port from Mr Wood­ford in an un­suc­cess­ful cam­paign to vote Mr Fer­gu­son off the board at in the Southend Air­port owner’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in July.

The fund man­ager, a long-stand­ing ally of Mr Tin­kler, is due to be cros­sex­am­ined by Sto­bart’s bar­ris­ter over claims he was in­volved in a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive plan to buy a stake in Sto­bart’s air­line busi­ness.

Sto­bart al­leges Mr Wood­ford, Mr Tin­kler and Philip Day, the Ed­in­burgh Woollen Mill owner, aimed to form a con­sor­tium that would have ended up with a 30pc share of the busi­ness “at no cost … to the dis­ad­van­tage of the com­pany’s share­hold­ers as a whole”.

Sto­bart has launched a High Court claim against Mr Tin­kler for breach of his fidu­ciary du­ties as a com­pany di­rec­tor, breach of con­tract and us­ing un­law­ful means in his ef­fort to oust Mr Fer­gu­son, in­clud­ing by en­gag­ing the sup­port of Mr Wood­ford. His fund, Wood­ford In­vest­ment Man­age­ment, held a 20pc stake in Sto­bart.

The row, which gripped the City over the sum­mer, is due to be reignited in a trial start­ing next week. It will bring pub­lic scru­tiny of Mr Wood­ford’s deal­ings. It comes af­ter what Mr Wood­ford de­scribed as “the most dif­fi­cult pe­riod of my en­tire ca­reer”. Some of his funds have un­der­per­formed the stock mar­ket and in­vestors have with­drawn bil­lions.

The trial is also due to fo­cus on the role of Cenkos, Sto­bart’s bro­ker, which was forced to re­sign as a re­sult of its ties to Mr Tin­ker and Mr Wood­ford.

Mr Wood­ford de­clined to com­ment on his forth­com­ing ap­pear­ance in the wit­ness box.

Mr Tin­kler de­nies wrong­do­ing and has in re­turn al­leged he was un­law­fully sacked. He has claimed defama­tion against five Sto­bart di­rec­tors.

The bit­ter dis­pute led to a se­ries of leaks of Sto­bart in­ter­nal cor­re­spon­dence, in­clud­ing emails in which Mr Tin­kler com­plained he was not paid enough.

He crit­i­cised Avril Palmer-Bau­nack, an­other for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive who now runs Bri­tish Car Auc­tions, claim­ing he was paid a “pit­tance” and “might have been bet­ter with a pair of t---”.

Mr Tin­kler apol­o­gised for the com­ments.

Last month, fol­low­ing a pe­ti­tion by lawyers for Mr Tin­kler, the High Court ruled Sto­bart must dis­close de­tails of cur­rent chief ex­ec­u­tive War­wick Brady’s po­ten­tial £18m cash bonus scheme and the con­tract be­tween Ryanair and Southend Air­port.

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