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MP Field demands probe into Laird sale.

Byline: Tariq Tahir Political Correspondent

BIRKENHEAD MP Frank Field has called for a probe into the receiver's role in the sale of the Cammell Laird shipyard.

He claims there could be a "serious conflict of interest" surrounding the part of Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) played in the deal which saw the yard bought by A&P.

In a House of Commons debate in December, Mr Field fiercely attacked the the Royal Bank of Scotland for its part in the affair and launched a campaign to unseat its board.

Now a letter to watchdog the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Mr Field sets out his concerns about the receivers' role as well.

A&P are 85pc owned by an arm of the Royal Bank of Scotland but are also audited by PwC.

Mr Field said: "I have asked the Royal Bank of Scotland if they, directly or indirectly, tried to influence the receiver on the question to whom he might sell the yards.

"They have refused to reply. I also wrote to the receiver asking had he received instructions and whether he sold to the bidder offering the highest price. He too has refused to respond."

In his letter, Mr Field also claims he has been told a "Chinese wall", a notional barrier to avoid conflict of interest, exists in the bank between its various divisions and also at PwC.

But he wrote: "I am far from happy with the assurances I have been given or that this system of Chinese walls worked effectively."

Mr Field said PwC had been called in when the yard's debts began to mount and invited offers for its sale.

A management buy-out was backed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and a team was preparing to travel to Cammell Laird's yard on Teesside to carry out an evaluation.

Before this could take place, however, PwC announced the sale of Laird's to A&P.

He told the Daily Post: "PricewaterhouseCoopers were part of this in that they were called in as receivers and I am asking the professional body to look at whether it thinks that this was improper behaviour."

In the Commons, he accused the Royal Bank of Scotland of killing the management bid."

The bank has always denied any wrongdoing in the sale and insisted A&P was the best bid.

Last night, Ian Stokoe, one of the joint administrative receivers of PwC, also said the firm had acted "beyond reproach".

He said: "The simple fact of the matter is we marketed Cammell Lairds to a number of different parties at the end of the day we accepted the best offer.

"We are also auditors to one of the under-bidders but Mr Field seems to have chosen to ignore this."

CAPTION(S):

DEMANDS: Frank Field MP DESERTED: A former worker at the Cammell Laird yard
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 8, 2002
Words:470
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