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Bell group clings to final option

Chris Hutching

Friday 12th December 2003

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Richmond minority shareholder Robin Bell said yesterday that he and fellow shareholders, who have 1.5% of the company, would not immediately give up their fight against the PPCS takeover.

Last week the Court of Appeal declined their application to take their case to the Privy Council over the five-year battle with the South Island meat company PPCS, which means their last option is a direct petition.

Bell said they would make up their minds in the next fortnight after the annual meeting next Tuesday, when it is expected they will canvas opinions.

They are still smarting over their failure to oust the southern raider from the share register, in spite of the High Court ordering forfeiture of a percentage of shares worth about $10 million, leaving PPCS with 63% control of Richmond.

Bell said the $10 million penalty on PPCS is insignificant in the context of the combined $2.7 billion revenues of the companies and that revulsion remains strong at the methods used by PPCS, which attracted comment and criticism from the High Court over the subterfuge employed by both sides.

Bell reiterated his group's view that PPCS actions tainted the takeover, although it was apparent from the outset that Richmond farmer shareholders always viewed PPCS with hostility.

The Bell group may have an outside chance of convincing the Privy Council that the sins of PPCS would warrant the unprecedented overturning of two appelate cases and numerous High Court actions on the petition of a 1.5% minority. A successful petition would damage PPCS financially and do more to destabilise Richmond than any other actions to date.

Meanwhile, PPCS chief operating officer Keith Cooper said it was time the Bell group started thinking about what was best for Richmond and assisted the two companies to work together for their mutual future benefit. PPCS still has to contend with other significant minority shareholders such as North Meats (a subsidiary of UK-based Bernard Matthews). Craig Boyce has been appointed a director on behalf of North Meats and PPCS has appointed Ian Farrant and Reese Hart, who will join PPCS CEO Stewart Barnett on the board. Richmond directors Paul Collins and Jim McCrea will retire.

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