The lucrative porn stable belonging to Richard Desmond, new owner of Express Newspapers, appears to be furnishing a tad too much ammunition for the tycoon’s legion of critics. Especially in the run-up to an planned IPO.

So up for auction goes a major contributor to Desmond’s fortunes: thirty-five top-shelf titillators including Asian Babes, Big Ones and Reader's Wives. He will, however, retain his ‘adult’ cable TV interests.

But, insists a spoke for Desmond’s holding company, Northern & Shell, the disposal has nothing to do with improving his less than shining image: "It has always been the intention of the board, once we were committed to focusing on the Express titles and the Star, that the adult magazines and associated websites would not continue to form part of the media group going forward.”

Meantime, forty-six staff at former Express websites closed after Desmond assumed control in November, are seeking legal advice after learning that that they may not receive redundancy pay.

The sites were bought for a nominal £1 as a speculative punt by SP Investments, a vehicle specially formed by Seymour Pierce Stockbrokers, in the hope that they could be sold on to a third party. But depending on the outcome of the creditors’ meeting on January 19, the staff who are each entitled to around twenty weeks salary as redundancy compensation may not receive a single penny from the Seymour Pierce shell.

According to joint liquidator Patrick Wadsted of HLB Kidsons: "If the companies who employ each of the staff have no tangible assets that can be realised, the funding of arrears of pay and holiday pay together with payment in lieu of notice will be done by the Department of Employment."

Seymour Pierce has yet to return phone calls from desperate staff enquiring about the payment situation.

News sources: Financial Times, BBC Online Business News (UK)