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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 18:02 GMT
Managers buy out UK funeral giant
Grave site
Dignity promises to meet British needs
Dignity Caring Funeral Services, the UK's largest funeral services provider, has been bought by its managers from its US parent, which is struggling to pay of big debts and fending of lawsuits.

The 217m management buyout leaves the US parent company, Service Corporation International (SCI), with a 20% stake valued at $21.6m.

Texas-based SCI, the world's largest "death care" provider, is trying to sell-off is overseas operations to pay-off $2.5bn in debts left over from an international expansion spree.

It is looking for partners for its operations in France, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay after selling its Australian operations in May.

Grave problems

SCI has been the focus of lawsuits in the US claiming it dug up bodies and recycled graves for new burials.

SCI says it is investigating the claims.

The company warned in January that its fourth quarter profits would be reduced by $550m because of write-downs of foreign assets.

Last year, the UK operations had total revenues of about 144m and a profit of 27.2m, before interest, tax and depreciation charges.

The UK funeral services market is valued at about 800m.

British needs

"The UK business has been running on a completely stand alone business for 18 months now," said Mike McCollum, Dignity's commercial director.

"What it's really about is delivering what the people in the UK want".

Dignity was created in 1994 when SCI bought Great Southern Group, Plantsbrook and more than 100 UK funeral homes.

The group, which performed about 75,000 funerals and 40,000 cremations last year, owns more than 500 funeral homes and 21 crematoria across the UK and may acquire more.

"If they were going for sensible prices and fair terms, we'd be looking to do that," Mr McCollum told BBC News Online.

The management team is led by Peter Hindley, who was chief executive at Plantsbrook before taking up the same post at SCI's UK operations.

See also:

30 Jul 01 | Business
Undertakers to make costs 'clearer'
18 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Undertakers go online
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