The battle for control of Mitchells & Butlers has taken another twist after it was revealed that the Takeover Panel has dismissed the pub group's claim that its largest shareholders were working as a concert party.
The regulator was asked in November to look at allegations that M&B's largest shareholders, including 23% stakeholder Joe Lewis, had been seeking to gain control of the company.
The Panel ruled late last night that before 15 October — the last time shares were traded by M&B's largest shareholders — no concert party had existed and that all investors were free to vote their shares at the annual meeting on January 28.
Piedmont, the investment vehicle of the billionaire Lewis, said it welcomed "unequivocal ruling" and claimed the M&B board had used the allegation as a "pretext for the unprecedented removal of four directors from the board", two of whom were Piedmont representatives.
M&B said it "reluctantly" accepted the Panel's decision but still believed "certain shareholders are using their rights in a manner which may have an adverse effect on control of the company".
The pub group said it had successfully petitioned the Panel to "continue its deliberations with regard to suggestions that control-seeking behaviour may have taken place since October 15".