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Hamleys directors backing takeover.

Independent directors at toy store Hamleys yesterday reiterated support for a managementbacked takeover as a possible rival suitor waited in the wings. The backing for the pounds 47.4 million proposal made by Icelandic retailer Baugur comes after the founder of the Waterstone's book chain declared his interest.

Tim Waterstone said on Friday that his bid vehicle Children's Stores had been in 'extensive talks' with the directors and was considering a counter proposal.

However, the independent directors said yesterday that no contact had been made with Children's Stores since they recommended the Baugur deal.

The statement added: 'In the absence of any alternative proposal, the independent directors will continue to recommend the offer.'

Hamleys chairman Simon Burke and non-executive directors John Napier and Jim Hodkinson - who are not part of the management buyout team - said on Tuesday that they were recommending an offer from Soldier, the management bid vehicle.

If shareholders back the Soldier deal, Baugur would take ultimate control of the toy company, with the Hamleys' managers, including chief operating officer John Watkinson and finance director Ian Parker, holding a minority interest.

Besides its flagship central London store, Hamleys has satellite outlets at Heathrow Airport, Covent Garden, London and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

It also has a web-based direct sales operation and 30 specialist Bear Factory soft toy stores in the UK, including outlets at Solihull, Merry Hill and Telford.

Mr Waterstone recently founded the Daisy & Tom chain of lifestyle stores for undereights. It has five stores in Chelsea in west London, Manchester, Guildford, Chester and the Bluewater Centre in Kent.

As well as a range of traditional toys, the chain sells trendy baby clothes and prams.

Bid battles have flared in the retail sector as store operators struggle with slowing consumer spending and financiers take advantage of low interest rates to pounce on bargains.

In a flurry of takeovers, department store Allders attracted interest from at least two parties before being bought by a consortium led by property firm Minerva, while upmarket group Selfridges has also attracted more than one suitor.

Shares clossed 4.5 up at 208.5p.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 24, 2003
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