Johnson undeterred as Trinity deal blocked

Bowdler: will be setting his sights elsewhere

Johnston Press managing director Tim Bowdler is not taking the collapse of his £16m deal with Trinity Mirror lying down.

After the Competition Commission and the DTI blocked the sale of four of the eight East Midlands free titles, both companies agreed the deal was "not sensible" and Trinity Mirror has said it will keep all eight newspapers.

A "very disappointed" Bowdler told Press Gazette: "We put a great deal of evidence to the commission to illustrate the competitive nature of the markets in which we operate. Clearly, we haven’t succeeded in persuading them of our view.

"No doubt we will be continuing to put evidence on future occasions and we’ll keep trying until we win the argument. You can be sure of one thing: we will keep putting our arguments because we believe very strongly that we are right."

The abandonment of the latest deal rankles. "Whenever you set out to do a deal and you are blocked, it is bound to be disappointing. But having said that, you have got to put it into context. A couple of weeks ago we did an incredibly big deal [the acquisition of Regional Independent Media titles in the north for £560m], so this is not that material in terms of the group as a whole."

Johnston will be setting its sights elsewhere though Bowdler refused to indicate which other titles or parts of the country he has in mind.

Competition minister Melanie Johnson, on the recommendation of the commission, has asked the Office of Fair Trading to consider an inquiry into consolidation of regional newspaper groups. The commission is concerned big publishers might collude in sharing adjoining markets.

Asked if he thought this would give his own group problems with acquisitions in the future, Bowdler said it would be "a major leap" to extrapolate such a conclusion.

Trinity Mirror decided on Thursday of last week to stop the deal, announcing it would "retain all eight titles" after deep frustration with the commission’s decision.

The eight, Traders and Herald & Posts, are lossmakers.

By Jean Morgan

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