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Skelly weeps in court as gym empire taken over

BUSINESSWOMAN Jackie Skelly broke down in tears at the High Court as lawyers hammered out a deal in which a new investor, UK company Energie Fitness, took over the fitness empire she built over 17 years.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke in the High Court approved a takeover plan put forward by examiner Kieran Wallace that sees nine of the 10 Jackie Skelly fitness centres survive and saves most of the company's 300-strong workforce.

Barrister Rossa Fanning, for the examiner, told the court that Ms Skelly and Mark Tooke, fellow directors of Map Dance Ltd, which trades as Jackie Skelly Fitness, had withdrawn their initial objections to the scheme.

He said that under the proposed takeover the investor would invest €2.3m and the company would indemnify Ms Skelly and Mr Tooke of personal guarantees they had given on various leases.

Mr Fanning said there would be a significant reduction of the company's €12m debt to Ulster bank which had agreed to accept €1.17m up front with a reduced payment of €4.5m over five years.

Mr Mark Sanfey, for Map Dance Ltd said Ms Skelly and Mr Tooke had agreed to sign a severance agreement undertaking to leave the company.

Mr Fanning said the company had been under court protection since Mr Wallace had been appointed interim examiner on February 4. He said the problems had arisen following a fall in turnover from €19.8m in 2008 to €14.4m last year.

Declan Murphy, counsel for new owner Energie Fitness, told the court the departure of the previous management was a precondition of the investor.

Ms Skelly said she said she was disappointed to be leaving the company, but that she was pleased to have successfully seen the company come through the examinership process, saving more than 250 jobs.

The Greystones branch of Jackie Skelly Fitness is the one not to survive. Under the scheme approved by Judge Clarke the premises will be handed back to the landlord.