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TOLL Holdings executive director Mark Rowsthorn has refused to step down from the board of Pacific National, Toll's rail joint venture with Patrick Corp, over claims he threatened and intimidated PN chief executive Stephen O'Donnell.
Mr Rowsthorn yesterday denied harassing Mr O'Donnell, who last week tendered his resignation from PN citing "threats and intimidatory behaviour by one of the Toll directors" on the four-member PN board, which has two directors each from Toll and Patrick.
Mr Rowsthorn allegedly sent Mr O'Donnell 20 emails demanding information about the performance of PN within three hours of the launch of Toll's takeover bid for Patrick in August.
Mr O'Donnell has also released details of an expletive-laden voice-mail from Mr Rowsthorn accusing him of working for Patrick and warning him that he should seek legal advice because "we are coming to get you".
Patrick yesterday wrote to Toll asking that Mr Rowsthorn step aside from the PN board until a replacement is found for Mr O'Donnell, who has offered to serve out a two-month notice.
"We want Stephen O'Donnell to remain as long as possible but don't believe that Mark Rowsthorn's intemperate barrage of emails and threatening voice-mail to Stephen amount to a positive contribution as a director of PN," a Patrick spokesman said.
But Mr Rowsthorn said he would not step aside from the board and denied threatening or intimidating Mr O'Donnell.
"I don't recall saying that. I speak to Stephen almost every day and we discuss all sorts of things," he told The Australian.
"I can't recall exactly what I said that day, but it has been taken out of context in terms of the whole issue."
It is understood the voice-mail was prompted by Mr O'Donnell's cancellation of a deal to buy rail wagons for PN from freight forwarding company FCL.
The cancellation followed a PN board decision to reject the deal, made without the two Patrick directors, who stayed away because of a potential conflict of interest arising from Patrick's pursuit of a merger with FCL.
Mr Rowsthorn said he hadn't wanted to cancel the deal outright but there was insufficient information to approve it when it came before the board in September.
Following further board inquiries the proposal was approved and PN had since paid FCL $3.5 million for seven high-capacity "five-pack" wagons.
Mr Rowsthorn also denied trying to overrule Mr O'Donnell over his sacking earlier this month of Robert Jeremy, a Toll employee seconded to PN as commercial general manager.
"In the past, when we've had secondees in the business from either Patrick or Toll, there has been a process where the shareholders have discussed that person - it's really a shareholder issue," he said. Mr O'Donnell had unilaterally attempted to send a seconded staff member back to his employer, he said.
Mr Rowsthorn said he would have no problem working with Mr O'Donnell while his replacement was found. "I spoke to him today and it was business as usual."
However, Mr Rowsthorn is understood to have enquired as to whether PN's head of safety had the accreditation required to sign off on regulatory safety matters. The answer was negative, which means PN will need to appoint a new, suitably accredited chief as soon as possible or risk losing its legal right to operate.
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