Lawyers are usually all too willing to pen threatening letters but Allen & Overy, the law firm representing Malcolm Glazer in his contentious stalking of Manchester United, is finding that the boot is on the other foot.

Since news of A&O's involvement in the proposed deal leaked out, furious United fans have been deluging the solicitors' firm with hundreds of hate e-mails every day.

Many are being sent to all the firm's 400-plus partners, forcing the lawyers to erect a special e-mail barrier.

Although the firm denies it has stepped up security, it did batten down the hatches at its London head office when United fans descended on the capital for the recent match against Arsenal.

But, contrary to the fans' reputation, the firm insists that "99 per cent of the mails are polite, reasonable and not abusive".

Maybe they should take some lessons from the professionals.

Empty handed

Foxtons, the London estate agency known for fast Mini Coopers and faster-talking sales staff, yesterday said Peter Rollings had stepped down as managing director after 19 years at the company.

It said he left for "personal reasons".

Friends can understand why he left. He worked tirelessly to build Foxtons into one of London's biggest agencies and was the only board director besides Jon Hunt, the reclusive chairman and chief executive. But he had no ownership stake in the business, while Mr Hunt, the sole owner, is described in rich lists as one of Britain's richest men, with a fortune worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Mr Rollings, moreover, was the public face of Foxtons, and was often called on to defend its competitive practices.

Two years ago it admitted to some instances of ordering the tearing down of rivals' for sale signs, in a controversy known as the "board wars".

Ed Mead, partner at rival agents Douglas & Gordon, describes Mr Rollings as a friend whom he would hire tomorrow. He said Mr Rollings is no hard man. He was the "messenger boy" of Mr Hunt and Mr Hunt was known for delivering some pretty blunt messages.

Mr Rollings, Foxtons said, would not be replaced, which suggests Mr Hunt will have an even more direct role in running the business. For those Londoners familiar with Foxton's hard-selling tactics, don't expect any let-up.

Seconds out

Standard Life has appointed City firm Burson-Marsteller to advise it as the mutual prepares for flotation next year. One of the first people to learn of the change was Paul Braithwaite, the long-standing Equitable Life campaigner who now wants to stand for the board of the Edinburgh-based institution on a platform of protecting policyholders' interests in the proposed demutualisation.

This has involved Braithwaite in lengthy e-mail exchanges concerning nomination and voting procedures with Standard Life, and last week he was intrigued to spot that the name of Gavin Grant of Burson-Marsteller had been added to the list of advisers copied in on the correspondence.

Braithwaite and Grant know each other of old because the Burson-Marsteller man advised Vanni Treves, chairman of Equitable Life, when three years ago the stricken mutual won support for a controversial compromise scheme from more than 97 per cent of Equitable policyholders - a margin of victory that Braithwaite memorably said was reminiscent of Robert Mugabe.

While it is always reassuring to see old rivals take up the cudgels again, Mudlark cannot help reflecting that the world of mutual life offices is a small one and getting smaller every year.


The path from drugs to detoxicating sea breezes on the south coast is well worn. After Nigel Wray's ill-fated investment in Damien Hirst's Pharmacy, and a recently increased stake in Alliance Pharma, how appropriate that the serial investor should amass an 8 per cent stake in Reigate-based Oakdene Homes, which has properties along the coast near Brighton.

Oakdene, on a price/earnings ratio of 3, looks a steadier bet than some of Mr Wray's former roller-coaster rides, such as Knutsford.

But in today's property market, there's no such thing as safe as houses.

Olympian comeback

The Reichmann family is steadily regaining much of the wealth it lost in the spectacular crash of Olympia & York in the early 90s.

Paul Reichmann scooped up $400m (£213m) last year by disposing of his remaining stake in Canary Wharf.

Now, the Canadian developer's nephew Philip and his son-in-law Frank Hauer stand to make several hundred million dollars more from the impending sale of O&Y Properties, a Canadian developer whose crown jewel is the 72-storey First Canadian Place in Toronto.

So are the Reichmanns planning a massive comeback on the scale of Canary Wharf?

No. Philip Reichmann insists that he and Mr Hauer "simply don't know" what they'll do next.

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