Brent Walker

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Brent Walker was a UK company involved in property, gambling, distilled beverages and pubs. It was founded by George Walker,[1] the brother of the boxer, Billy Walker.

In 1991, following the accumulation of debts which had been used to finance acquisitions, George Walker was ousted from the company and its Board sold its remaining investments under the supervision of its bankers.[2]

George Walker[edit]

Born in London, George Walker career began as a porter at Billingsgate Fish Market. Like his brother, Walker became a boxer of the 1950s. Following his retirement from the ring he undertook a number of business ventures including Dolly's nighclub in London.

Foundations of the company[edit]

In 1974 Walker arranged a reverse takeover of Hackney and Hendon Greyhound Company, a stock market listed company, sold his own business interests to it and changed its name to Brent Walker.[3] Using land from the Hendon greyhound stadium, Brent Walker entered into a joint venture with Hammerson Estates to develop the Brent Cross shopping centre, taking a 25% stake.[4] Brent Walker sold its interest in Brent Cross to Hammerson in 1976.[5]

Operations, acquisitions and disposals[edit]

The films The Stud (1978), The Bitch (1979) and Quadrophenia were financed by Brent Walker in the 1970s. Video productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operas were produced in the 1980s. In 1987 the company acquired Goldcrest Films.[6][7]

In 1979 Brent Walker acquired the Camera Effects post-production and visual effects company. It was sold to Rank Organisation in 1981.[8]

Brent Walker operated Southend Pier between 1986 and 1988.[9] It also acquired the Kursaal amusement park in Southend in 1988. The local authority stepped in to take over this dilapidated property in the 1990s.[10]

The London Trocadero, a property in London’s West End originally built as a restaurant, was acquired in 1987 as a joint venture with Robin Power, an Irish developer. Brent Walker sold its interest to Power in 1991 at a substantial loss.

Elstree Studios, Borehamwood were acquired in 1988.[11] Brent Walker obtained planning permission for the construction of a Tesco supermarket on the backlot and the studios fell out of use. Faced with a potential compulsory purchase, Brent Walker sold the remaining property to Hertsmere Council in 1996.[12]

The Cameron and Tolly Cobbold Breweries were acquired from Ellerman Investments, a company owned by the Barclay brothers, in 1988 for £240m.[13] The company closed Tolly Cobbold’s Cliff Brewery in Ipswich in 1989 and transferred production to Cameron’s Hartlepool brewery.[14] The Hartlepool brewery was sold to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries in 1992.[15]

Pubmaster was formed by Brent Walker as an estate of mainly tenanted pub properties including 386 Grand Metropolitan pubs acquired in 1988 and 800 pubs acquired with the Cameron and Tolly Cobbold breweries. Pubmaster was sold in November 1996 to Silverfleet Capital Limited, a private equity group. At the time it comprised 1600 pubs.[16]

In 1988, Brent Walker purchased the distilled beverage company Whyte & Mackay. The company was sold to American Brands (later called Fortune Brands) in 1990.[17]

The William Hill chain of betting shops, including the recently merged Mecca Bookmakers, were acquired from Grand Metropolitan in 1989. In 1997 William Hill was sold to Nomura for £700m.[18]

Collapse[edit]

Brent Walker accumulated debts of £1.2bn by 1991 with debt-financed acquisitions. A collapse in property prices and high interest rates put the company in financial difficulties. George Walker was ousted from the Board in 1991 and the group’s bankers took control, enforcing a process of sale of the company’s assets. Following the sale of William Hill in 1997, the company was removed from the stock exchange and wound up.[19]

Serious fraud trial[edit]

In 1994, the Serious Fraud Office brought a case against George Walker and Brent Walker's former finance director Wilfred Aquilina, accusing them of inflating profits at the film division by £19.3m in an effort to lure investors. After a four and a half month trial costing an estimated £40m, Walker was cleared of all charges, while Aquilina was convicted of false accounting, sentenced to 18 months imprisonment suspended for two years, and fined £25,000.[20]

References[edit]