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In-house: New Merlin Entertainments GC launches first-ever formal panel

Leisure company Merlin Entertainments has kicked off its first ever formal panel review in a process overseen by new general counsel Matt Jowett.

Jowett (pictured) took over from Merlin’s longstanding group legal director and company secretary Colin Armstrong earlier this year, who instructed external counsel on an informal, preferred basis, rather than on a formal panel arrangement.

It is understood that Linklaters-trained Jowett, who heads up Merlin’s company secretarial department, is also currently reviewing the company’s internal set up of legal services.

Regular advisers for Merlin, which owns visitor attractions such as Alton Towers, Legoland and Madame Tussauds, include Ashurst, Knights, TLT and Fladgate in the UK, with the group turning to Ashurst in 2013 for its £3.3bn initial public offering. Corporate partner Mark Sperotto, who is now at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher led on the transaction alongside capital markets partners Jonathan Parry, who recently left Ashurst for White & Case and Nicholas Holmes.

In addition, Merlin turned to regular adviser Kennedys last year for advice after its Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers crashed, leaving 16 people with injuries.

Alton Towers accepted full responsibility for the crash and in a statement issued by Merlin on 5 June, chief executive Nick Varney said: ‘Whilst the investigation into the causes is continuing, we have identified a series of additional safety protocols that we are implementing immediately across our multi-car rollercoasters. These will act as an additional safeguard to further strengthen our operating and safety standards. This has been a devastating experience, and we are committed to learning the lessons from it.’

Jowett was previously general counsel and company secretary at packing company DS Smith, and before that had headed the legal team at VT Group.

Earlier this month Eversheds, DWF, Trowers & Hamlins and Manchester law firm Pannone Corporate were appointed as advisers on the newly-formed West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) legal panel.

The authority’s first legal roster includes four law firms across three legal frameworks. The authority tendered for three lots, in full service provision, regulatory advice and parliamentary agency. Eversheds has been appointed across all three frameworks, while DWF was appointed to the full service lot. According to tender documents, the panel is worth about £5m over four years.