Porterhouse owners in legal dispute

Fri, Dec 14, 2012, 00:00

The Porterhouse pub and nightclub chain is embroiled in a legal row ahead of a Bank of Scotland High Court bid to seize control of a one-third share in the group next week.

Bank of Scotland is due to ask the High Court on Monday to direct the Dublin City Sherriff to take control of the one-third of the group owned by Frank Ennis, who owes it €1.2 million.

However, Mr Ennis told the High Court he believes that fellow shareholders, Oliver Hughes and Liam Laharte, are trying to buy his stake from the bank for €700,000 to €800,000, which he says is below its real value. At a hearing this week, Mr Ennis got a series of injunctions restraining his fellow shareholders from, among other things, dealing with the bank or its agents, and directing them to buy his shares at a price to be determined by the High Court. The dispute is rooted in the €1.2 million Mr Ennis owes the bank. The liability is not connected with the Porterhouse.

Bank of Scotland got a High Court judgment against Mr Ennis for the sum in 2010. In October 2011, it was given a charge over his shares in the Porterhouse and an order preventing him from selling or disposing of his interest in the business. In an affidavit opened at this week’s hearing, Mr Ennis told the High Court that in May, he agreed with the bank that the Porterhouse group’s property in Covent Garden, London, would be sold and the proceeds used to pay off his debt.

Extra liability

It was valued at about €15 million. According to Mr Ennis, the group was advised that it could leave it with a double tax bill and had to devise a structure to avoid the extra liability.

This never went ahead and, according to his affidavit, Mr Ennis said that last month, the group’s auditor, David L’Estrange, told him Mr Hughes and Mr Laharte were in talks to buy his shares from the bank.

Mr Ennis told the court that at all times, he believed that his fellow shareholders intended to sell the Covent Garden property. Mr Hughes and Mr Laharte have yet to put their side of the case, but it is understood they may not have been willing to sell the Maiden Lane premises. The court documents make it clear relationships between Mr Ennis and the others had been deteriorating for some time.