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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK

Business: The Company File

Britannia faces £3m ballot bill

Michael Hardern: A thorn in the side of several building societies

Britannia Building Society chief executive Graham Stow has accused veteran carpetbagger Michael Hardern of costing its members £3m and of treating them with contempt.

The Society's lawyers confirmed that a handwritten note scribbled in one of Britannia's London branches on Wednesday did constitute Mr Hardern's formal withdrawal from the elections to the board.

The Society spent £2m to ballot its 1.25m voting members and include Mr Hardern's name on the original voting forms.

His withdrawal, just a few days before the deadline day for ballot returns, will cost another £1m to send out new voting forms.

Frivolous behaviour

Mr Stow has called on the Government to act to prevent allegedly frivolous candidates standing in future elections.

He said: "We said all along that Michael Hardern was not suitable to serve as a director of Britannia, or indeed any building society, and his increasingly eccentric behaviour proves the point.

"By withdrawing from our election just days before the voting deadline, he has shown contempt for our members."

Under the rules of a mutual society, members need to collect only 50 signatures of support to be allowed to stand for the board or propose a resolution.

The figure is easily reached as Britannia has more than two million members.

Mr Hardern originally stood for election to the board on a pro-conversion ticket to transform the Britannia into a bank.

In an apparent change of mind, he announced recently he was too busy to stand for election, and would not be able to change anything if he was allowed on the board.

The four other nominees are all solidly behind the Society preserving its mutual status.

Mr Hardern did not officially tell the Britannia until Wednesday.

Election postponed

Britannia said more than 435,000 members had already cast their votes.

The deadline for voting is tomorrow at the Society's branches and Monday for postal ballots.

Mr Hardern's handwritten note was penned at the Kingsway branch in London on Britannia's own "Proud to be mutual" stationery.

The note read: "I Michael Hardern being of sound mind do hereby irrevocably withdraw from the current election for directors of the Britannia Building Society. Queen's Birthday 21 April 1999 at Holborn signed The Duke Scillonia."

The Britannia announced its AGM will take place as planned at 10am on Thursday April 29 at the Victoria Hall, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

However, the election of directors will now be adjourned until May to allow a new vote to take place.

Mr Hardern, who claims sovereignty over the Scilly Isles and uses the name, The Duke Scillonia, was not available for comment.

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