A non-refundable deposit of £60 million has allegedly been demanded by United News & Media from the Daily Mail & General Trust before the latter will be given access to the accounts of UN&M subsidiary, Express Newspapers.

The fervently Tory Mail group is one of several bidders for Express Newspapers [WAMN: 30-Oct-00], which publishes the mildly leftist Daily and Sunday Express and their sister daily, The Star. Observers believe the deposit could be intended as a political deterrent by UN&M chief executive and Labour peer Lord Hollick; although insiders insist that its sole purpose is to prevent other newspaper groups from using their bids as a ploy to gain commercially sensitive information. However, no official comment was forthcoming from either side.

Such a deposit – if it exists outside the fevered imagination of business journalists – would undoubtedly favour the bid already tabled by the Hinduja brothers, neither of whom own UK media assets and who have promised to run Express Newspapers as a politically independent entity.

However, according to yesterday’s Sunday Business, the Hindujas could be supported in their bid by Trinity Mirror group, owner of The Mirror and its Sunday sibling, plus a host of regional titles. According to a TM insider: “It looks like the Hindujas are serious about The Express. We’ve had a chat with them about how we could help.”

The contentious deposit could also explain the abrupt withdrawal from the auction by the Barclay twins, owners of Sunday Business and The Scotsman [WAMN: 27-Oct-00].

News source: The Times (London)