THERE will be no further action taken over claims of underhand share dealing in the run-up to a bid by Chelsea Football Club to buy out the freehold of Stamford Bridge.
In October 2011 the club attempted to buy the freehold, by way of a resolution put to an Extraordinary General Meeting of Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) – the shareholder body that has held it since 1997.
In the weeks before that vote, CPO sold a quantity of shares unprecedented in recent years – many of them in large voting blocks.
There had been claims that some of those shares had been bought by people connected with the football club – who, it was suggested, may have an additional interest in procuring the freehold.
In the event, the shareholders voted against selling the freehold back to the club; and the club has said that it has no plans at present to make another approach.
But that has not stopped a bitter wave of recriminations over the ensuing 20 months.
The CPO board was restructured in the immediate aftermath, and a report by new director Gray Smith concluded that there was only very limited action that could be taken to investigate or act in relation to the owners of the disputed share blocks.
It was announced at this January's CPO AGM that letters would be written to holders of the contentious shares asking them to identify themselves and explain their motives – under section 793 of the Companies Act 2006.
That process has now been completed, with 47 such shareholders approached, and the CPO Board today announced no further action would be taken.
Meanwhile, minutes of a Board meeting held earlier this month have revealed the financial cost of the episode to CPO.
They say: “Extreme concern was expressed by all at the legal costs incurred by the recent responses to the s793 letters and follow up responses and queries.
“The bills will be reviewed and discussed with (CPO lawyers) Stephenson Harwood by Gray Smith.
“Of the bills incurred, 60% were in relation to queries and matters raised by a single shareholder.”
The legal bill associated with corresponding with that one shareholder on this single issue is understood to be in the region of £12,000 to £15,000.
CPO's main source of income comes via sales of shares, and there has been concern that not enough are being sold to cover costs.
A sales push at CPO's annual fundraising dinner last week saw 140 new shares issued – bringing in a total of £14,000.