The largest shareholder in Johnston Press has indicated he could vote to block any sale of the company unless it is on “stupendous terms.”
Christen Ager-Hanssen, whose Custos Group investment vehicle owns more than 25pc of the up-for-sale regional publisher, has stated his desire to “fight for all” of the company’s titles amid speculation that the company could be broken up.
Sky News reported over the weekend that Daily Mail owner DMGT is drawing up plans to buy JP’s national daily the i but has no interest in any of its 200-plus regional titles.
It is also being claimed that “numerous parties” had expressed interest in other assets.
The size of Custos’s current stake means that were any offers to come in for the whole of JP, Mr Ager-Hanssen, pictured, could effectively block the sale – although he would not necessarily be able to prevent the sale of individual assets.
In an interview with Sky News business presenter Ian King, Mr Ager-Hanssen said he could “understand why [DMGT] have a desire” to buy the i, but added: “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can buy it.”
Asked by Ian whether he would vote to block a sale of the company “unless it was on stupendous terms”, Mr Ager-Hanssen said: “You could say that. We have that opportunity.”
Pressed specifically on whether he would vote to block a sale of the i to DMGT, he responded: “I wouldn’t comment before I see an offer.”
During the interview, Christen reiterated previous assertions that he could not discuss whether he will be launching a full takeover bid for the company himself.
But he told Sky: “We get emails all the time [from JP employees]. There’s an appetite to do things and to do changes, but the management have not actually been very successful in taking care of all of these extremely good people within the company.
“I see there are so many talents – so many digital talents, so many good journalists – and we need to actually take care of them. We want to fight to actually get this. We want to work with the unions and get this off the ground again.”
He added: “I have a desire to see this company get back on track and grow. I want to be the champion for local news again. I want to fight for local news. I believe in local news.”
Johnston Press has declined to comment on Mr Ager-Hanssen’s remarks.
Of the latest speculation, the company said on Monday: “The formal sale process launched on 11 October is ongoing.”