Desmond makes move for West Ferry plant

The battle for the Telegraph Group intensified this week with Express Newspapers' owner, Richard Desmond, announcing his intention to gain full control of the West Ferry print plant.

Desmond's move for West Ferry coincides with him tabling a £450 million bid for Telegraph Group with Lazards, Hollinger's investment bank.

Lawyers acting for Desmond have written to Dan Colson, the Telegraph Group chief executive, to say they intend to buy the Telegraph's 50 per cent stake in West Ferry, jointly owned by Desmond.

The Express owner claims Lord Black no longer controls the Telegraph's parent company after agreeing to sell his stake in Hollinger Inc to the Barclay Brothers.

Under the terms of the West Ferry joint venture, Desmond has first option to buy the Telegraph stake if Hollinger's ownership should change. He has 42 days after any change of ownership of Hollinger to replace Hollinger directors on the West Ferry board and 30 days after that to buy out the Telegraph stake.

Kim Fletcher, the editorial director of Telegraph Group, said that whatever happened to the ownership of West Ferry, there is a contract in place to print its newspapers at the plant until 2009.

If Desmond's argument is successful, it would give him an advantage in the scrap to buy Telegraph Group. Express sources argue that it would take up to ten years and an investment of £350 million to build an equivalent plant.

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