Morrells Brewery is expected to be sold to tycoon Michael Cannon, who has made a fortune building up and selling pub chains.

Financial experts in the City say the multi-millionaire has put in a £50m bid for the historic Oxford brewery and its 132 pubs, outbidding 20 rivals.

A decision on the sale is expected next month. Up to now, it had been thought that Morlands, the Abingdon-based brewer of Old Speckled Hen, was the most likely buyer.

Morrells was put on the market in the summer after a strategic review by accountants suggested the family-owned business should be sold.

The decision led to a family feud, with some members backing the sale against a smaller group led by Charles Eld, the former chief executive. He was sacked and escorted from the brewery in St Thomas Street, Oxford.

Mr Cannon's bid is believed to beat the previous best bid by about £7m.

He made his first fortune setting up Devenish, a pub chain he sold to Greenalls for £26m in 1993. In 1996, he sold the Magic Pub chain to Greene King for £200m.

He now owns the Ambishus Pub Company and Fuddruckers, a chain of 204 American fast-food outlets.

It is not clear whether Mr Cannon's offer includes keeping the brewery. According to Morrells, all previous bids would have involved closing it. But chief executive and chairman Ken Hodgson dropped a hint recently that Morrells beer might continue to be brewed outside Oxford after the sale. He made the comment after receiving a petition with 5,700 signatures opposing the sale from the real ale group Camra.

Mr Hodgson said: "At no time have we said that our name, or our beers, will necessarily disappear from the Oxfordshire pub scene.

"There is a real possibility that the purchaser will retain the name and continue to produce the beers from another site."

Camra has accused Morrells directors of "a scandalous attempt to wreck a viable, profit-making company".

Mr Hodgson said: "I can only reiterate what we have said all along, which is that the decision to sell was not an easy one. But we had to face the facts - the brewery is not profitable."

Apart from Morland, other companies thought to be interested in buying Morrells include Enterprise Inns, Greene King, Fullers and the Henley-based brewer Brakspears.

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