Ashursts seals William Hill sale in record time

Ashurst Morris Crisp has completed its fastest ever deal in 48 hours, to advise on the sale of bookmaker William Hill.

A partner-heavy team of seven, lead by Ashursts' head of private equity group Charlie Geffen, was notified of the sale to venture capitalist groups Cinven and CVC Capital Partners on 18 February.

Geffen denies that any prior knowledge of the business had allowed the lightning turnaround on the deal, but says: “Ashursts advised other bidders at the time of the sale to Nomura.”

He adds: “Obviously we had access to William Hill's prospectus, which already contained a lot of information, and there was great reliance placed on this.”

Geffen also attributes the speed of the deal to William Hill's flotation, which was supposed to take place today. “From 22 February the grey market would have been in play when institutional investors could buy the shares at 135p,” he says.

Freshfields has also bolstered its portfolio by advising Nomura on the u825m sale of the debt-ridden William Hill, following the Japanese investment bank's decision to trounce plans for flotation under the noses of lead manager Warburg Dillon Read.

CVC had previously attempted to purchase William Hill in 1997, when Nomura bought the bookmaker for u730m, while Cinven has made two advances to buy the company.

Potential investors in William Hill will receive their money back with interest from Warburg Dillon Read and a u20 betting voucher from the bookkeeper. However Warburg Dillon Read is in the throws of trying to negotiate a fee for the aborted flotation.

Meanwhile, a furore has erupted between Nomura and two fund managers, Phillips and Drew and Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, over claims that their withdrawal of interest had caused the flotation plan to collapse.

Both fund managers deny the charge.