A tussle for control of Southend Airport turned into an all-out war last night after the former chief executive was fired from his seat on the board and accused of trying to cash-in £30million of shares.
Stobart Group, owner of the airport, and its ex-boss Andrew Tinkler are suing each other in a spat that has dragged in some of the City’s biggest names, including fund manager Neil Woodford.
Ironically, the row threatens to tear apart the business just a day after it received a major boost when budget airline Ryanair announced it would be opening a new base there next year.
Southend Airport owner Stobart and its ex-boss Andrew Tinkler are suing each other in a spat that has dragged in some of the City’s biggest names
The row began on May 25 when Tinkler, who stepped down as chief executive in 2017 but stayed on the board, refused to support the re-election of chairman Iain Ferguson, claiming he wanted the firm to have a different strategy.
Board members Andrew Wood and John Coombs threatened to resign if Ferguson went, and claimed they had the backing of major shareholder Invesco.
On May 29, Stobart, which was formed out of the famous haulage company, fired off a stock market announcement saying that it was no longer possible to engage with Tinkler.
It made a series of accusations which focus on an alleged attempt to cash in £30million of shares, and of issues relating to the failed takeover of airline Flybe – which Stobart bid for earlier this year.
Stobart also accused Tinkler of destabilising the group.
Tinkler hit back by announcing he had the backing of fund manager Woodford, a major shareholder, and wanted to appoint as chairman the retail billionaire Philip Day, who owns Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
On June 8, Stobart filed a claim in the High Court suing Tinkler and former chief operating officer William Stobart over a disputed tax arrangement.
Tinkler hit back, claiming he was suing five members of the board for defamation. Last night Tinkler was dismissed from the board and Stobart said it would file a new lawsuit against him.
In an explosive dismissal letter seen by the Mail, Stobart Group’s lawyers accused Tinkler, who earned £5.6million last year, of trying to force the company to buy back 10m of its shares for £30million in September 2017, demanding £30million based on a previous bonus scheme; and trying to acquire 30 per cent of Stobart’s airline business for no cost as part of the takeover of Flybe.
Warwick Brady, Stobart’s chief executive, said: ‘His actions, particularly in recent days, have threatened to destabilise the company and severely impacted my ability and that of my team to manage the business.
‘This is against the interests of all our shareholders.’
Tinkler denies the claims and said the allegations in the letter contained malicious falsehoods.
He added: ‘In the past few days, we’ve seen the Stobart chairman and chief executive involved in allegations of bullying and ignoring their own senior team.
‘They are also attempting to deny shareholders the right to determine the leadership of the board. This is not how a listed company should behave.’