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Phillips’ UK Regional Executive Director Tony Barry confirmed to the Antiques Trade Gazette on Friday that the resignations, which were put on his desk in London on Tuesday last week, were unexpected. But he said that after flying to Scotland the same day to speak to those concerned he had accepted them.

He also told the Antiques Trade Gazette that there was a rumour of the experts setting up together as a new auction house under the Lyon and Turnbull name to rival Phillips’ Scottish operation.

Philip Gregory, a PR executive representing four of the five experts, refused to deny that the four would be working together in the future, but he did deny “at this stage” that they would be going under the name of Lyon and Turnbull, the Edinburgh auctioneers who closed down earlier this year. Noble Grossart, the local bankers thought to have purchased the company name, were unavailable for comment.

Apart from Mr Curnow, who specialises in oil paintings and watercolours, those who have resigned are associate directors John Mackie, Sebastian Pryke and Trevor Kyle, and director Campbell Armour.

Curnow, Kyle, Mackie and Armour have nearly 100 years service to the firm in Scotland between them. The most junior of the five, Sebastian Pryke, is the only one not represented by Mr Gregory.

Mr Barry agreed that with the experience, contacts and knowledge of those who had resigned, any rival operation they might choose to set up would be an issue for Phillips in the short term. However, he was less concerned about their potential impact in the medium to long term. “Let’s not forget we still have a strong team of 30 good people. Emergency contingency plans are not necessary and the existing sales programme remains unchanged. It is business as usual.”

It is thought that the resignations have been brought about at least in part as a result of dissatisfaction with the far-reaching restructuring of Phillips’ business that has been taking place since chief executive Chris Thomson took over from long time owner/director Christopher Weston early last year. Scottish trade sources claim that in particular the closure of the Glasgow rooms and the policy of sending high value pieces to New Bond Street for sale rather than auctioning them in Edinburgh led to concern. Mr Barry confirmed that there had been some resistance to change from senior management at Edinburgh – “some people have adapted better than others” – but believes Phillips now have a “tremendous opportunity to make substantial advances” in Scotland. “The feeling one gets is of quality business and that it’s a dynamic place to be. More competition could be a good thing for us.”

The five who have resigned remain under contractual obligations and were unavailable for comment.

Phillips have appointed their Edinburgh saleroom manager, Deidre Armstrong, as acting regional director.