A family-owned regional newspaper group has undergone a boardroom shake-up following an abortive attempt by Sir Ray Tindle to buy a controlling interest in the company.
But while one group of shareholders in NWN was strongly in favour of the deal, another group was just as firmly opposed to the sale.
The issue ended up going to the High Court before Mr Justice Henderson ruled that the proposed sale of shares to Sir Ray could not go ahead.
Now the company has undergone a series of boardroom changes which have seen the faction who were originally opposed to the sale take control.
They include production and business development director Anthony Moss and operations Director Huw Jones, both of whom are remaining on the board.
Meanwhile deputy chairman Nonna Woodward, one of the group which wanted to sell their shares to Sir Ray, has left the company after 40 years, while chairman Russell Whitehair has also moved on and is not being replaced.
And in a further change, managing director David Faulkner has abandoned earlier plans to retire and is staying on with the company.
The background to the court battle over the company’s future lies in a 1961 trust set up by its then owner, Eric Thomas.
He divided his controlling interest of 19,233 shares in NWN Media between his three daughters – Ms Woodward, Susan Bourne, and Erica Moss.
On 12 July last year, Sir Ray’s Tindle Newspapers made a formal offer to the trustees for enough of the shares to give him a majority 51pc shareholding in the company.
The trustees, who included Mr Whitehair, concluded that the sale should go ahead, but when the Bourne and Moss families objected, the trustees sought the court’s direction as to the way forward.
The case was heard last July in the Chancery Division of the High Court and, following some complex legal arguments, the judge eventually ruled in favour of the Bourne and Moss families.
In his judgement he concluded: “It is rightly accepted…that the proposed sale to Tindle cannot proceed against the wishes of those families, and the court cannot give the trustees the approval of the proposal which they seek.”
Since then, the Woodward family’s shares have been purchased by the company in a buy-back deal.
A full law report on the case is available online here.
A press release issued by NWN Media last week on the boardroom shake up made no direct mention of the court case or the Tindle deal, but made clear that the company was remaining in family ownership.
It read: “A new chapter has opened for newspaper publishers NWN Media as the company is set to remain family owned and a new generation of shareholders takes over control and looks forward to a bright future for its titles.
“Now, after a period of reorganisation, the company is set for the future with a changed board of directors and a new shareholding structure split between two families.
“Chairman of the company Russell Whitehair has left to pursue other opportunities, whilst family member and vice chairman, Nonna Woodward, having reached a certain age, is retiring after 40 years with the company. The company thanks Nonna Woodward for her many years of service and wishes her all the best in her retirement.”
A statement issued on behalf of the shareholders added: “It has been a period of some flux for our company but we believe we have emerged from it leaner and in far better shape to move forward commercially.
“We have always been family owned and retaining that status was something that was very important to us. We have achieved that and are now very optimistic about what the future holds for us and also for our loyal readers.”
Managing director David Faulkner said the business was now in great shape to exploit new opportunities.
He said: “We are a company who believe in the traditional values of local media. We are confident that by providing titles and websites of quality for our readers and advertisers, the communities we serve will also support us.”
As well as its own newspaper titles, NWN Media now carries out contract printing for a number of other national and regional newspapers.
Added David: “It is a challenging time for the media but we maintain faith in the values that have served this company well over the years and still see a clear and profitable road ahead. The new board and shareholder structure puts us in a good position to move forward.”
Tindle Newspapers has not responded to requests for a comment.