The former owner of collapsed carmaker MG Rover last night sold its most prized asset, Studley Castle, for #4.5 million to a football tycoon.
The Grade II listed building in Warwickshire, which is used as a hotel and conference centre, has been sold to Firoka Group, a hotels concern run by Tanzanian millionaire Firoz Kassam who also owns Oxford United Football Club.
"Most" of the proceeds of the sale by Phoenix Venture Holdings will be donated to the trust fund set up to aid former workers at MG Rover which went bust in April with debts of #1.4 billion and the loss of 6 , 000 jobs at Longbridge.
The exact amount that will ultimately be transferred by PVH to the fund is not yet known because some charges will have to be deducted.
The 172-year-old castle passed into the ownership of British Leyland, a predecessor of PVH, about 30 years ago. PVH assumed ownership when it took over the former Rover Group from BMW in 2000.
The castle, set in 28 acres of Warwickshire parkland, was one of the assets pledged by the Phoenix directors, led by John Towers, to a fund set up to help workers laid off after the collapse of MG Rover.
About 40 sealed bids were thought to have been received by the closing date in June and offers had been expected at about #5 million.
Phoenix director Peter Beale last night said: "We are pleased to have completed the successful sale of Studley Castle. This sale is part of our process of disposing of all PVH assets to allow us to create value for the Longbridge Employee Trust.
"We are currently acting under legal advice not to transfer our shareholdings into the trust, but that advice is under constant review as the terms of reference and progress of the current DTI inquiry become clearer.
"In the light of recent press speculation to the contrary, we would like to take this opportunity of reassuring everyone that we remain completely committed to maximising the value of PVH assets and making this gift."
As well as Oxford United, Firoka Group also owns Heythrop Park, a 270-bed hotel set in 440 acres of the Oxfordshire countryside, as well as Holiday Inns in Kings Cross and Old Street in London. The company last night said Studley would be getting a multi-million pound revamp.
Operations director John Angus said: "This is an opportunity to develop an under-utilised site. The castle is not as well sold or as well developed as it could be.
"We buy properties and develop them into high quality hotels and conference centres. "It is fantastic we have got the hotel. We formally take over on Friday and there is a wedding here on Saturday.
"There will only good things for the site, but there is still some way to go."