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William Hill risks revolt by dismissing pay protest

BOOKMAKER William Hill has risked further angering shareholders by dismissing their attempt to overturn the chief executive's pay package today as potentially damaging to the business.

At a meeting this afternoon 49.9pc voted against a "retention package" worth £1.2m (€1.5m) for chief executive Ralph Topping.

But the package was passed by a slim majority of 50.1pc by chairman Gareth Davis.

Mr Davis said that Topping had provided "exceptional delivery" during his time at William Hill and that his remuneration package should reflect that. In a statement released after the meeting he said that it was in the shareholders' interests to "ensure that Ralph remains with William Hill at a critical time in the Group's evolution".

Mr Topping, who has worked for the company since 1973, will now be entitled to the bonus in shares if he stays on until the end of next year as part of a package announced in June last year.

"Whilst we recognise that some shareholders are not supportive of this one-off agreement, we believe that there is widespread appreciation of the very significant contribution of Ralph Topping to the success of William Hill," said Davis.

"We consulted with the majority of our major shareholders and most recognised the importance of what was being put in place for William Hill's future. Whilst many of our largest shareholders supported the Remuneration Report resolution, one of the most influential vote advisory bodies recommended a vote against. It appears that a large number of shareholders across our share register voted in line with this recommendation.

"We understand shareholder concerns but in this exceptional case believe it was the right thing for the Group, the shareholders and the longer term future of the business that we retain Ralph Topping's services at this important time."

William Hill is the latest business to experience an uprising of disgruntled shareholders demanding a curb on high executive pay, after similar protests at Barclays and Xstrata that have been called the "Shareholder Spring".

The backlash also prompted the departure of insurer Aviva's chief executive Andrew Moss today, the third high-profile chief executive to quit under pressure from shareholders in recent weeks. Last week Sly Bailey stepped down as chief executive of Trinity Mirror and David Brennan left AstraZeneca at the end of April.