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Repair firms in Gateway gazumping debacle

The management of Just Car Clinics is furious after its plans to buy Gateway Autos were thwarted by a rival bodyshop group at the eleventh hour.

Insiders say the plc’s chief executive, Barry Whittles, was less than 24 hours away from signing contracts with administrators at the Manchester bodyshop when he heard that the sale was off.

Rival accident repairer Howard Basford had stepped in with a higher offer, which had been accepted by the administrators.

One source says: “Barry had spent more than £10,000 on legal fees and weeks in negotiations. It seemed pretty much a done deal apart from the formalities; he had even sent people into Gateway to measure up the staff for their uniforms, and had some Gateway staff over to his sites to learn the systems. He’s furious with Howard Basford.”

Whittles’ anger has been tempered by his £80,000 acquisition of Parsons Accident Repair Centre in Hartlepool days later. It was a subsidiary of Williamson Motor Group, which went into receivership last month. The 22,000sq ft bodyshop will process around 55 jobs per week, and fits geographically with Just Car Clinic’s businesses in north Yorkshire.

Once its new bodyshop in Scarborough opens later this month Just Car Clinic’s network will total 15.

Howard Basford already has a significant presence in the north west of England, with bodyshops in Aintree, Birkenhead, Ellesmere Port, Stockport and Crewe. Earlier this year it bought Robert & Ellis of Mold in north Wales. The addition of Gateway Autos takes it up to nine sites, with group turnover exceeding £20m.

Howard Basford chairman, Tracy Howard, says the acquisition gives the business key representation on the west side of Manchester to complement its existing operations in the region.

“Gateway Autos has a long-standing reputation for its quality of workmanship and is a welcome addition to our network,” he adds.

Managing director Neil Kirk believes insurers are looking to increase their business with larger bodyshop groups.

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