The battle for Cobham heated up last night after one of the defence firm's major investors hit out at its planned takeover by a US private equity group.

Sanderson Asset Management said it was 'inclined to vote against' Advent International's £4billion offer at a crucial shareholder meeting to be held on Monday.

'We have privately communicated our position to the board along with our desire to see the management team continue their good work in the event a better offer does not materialise,' said Sanderson senior portfolio manager Christian Paaskesen.

Cobham, founded in 1934 by Sir Alan Cobham, who is said to be the inspiration for fictional hero Biggles, pioneered the technology for air-to-air refuelling

It is the first time one of Cobham's institutional shareholders has said it could oppose the deal.

Silchester International Investors, until recently the largest shareholder, has urged the board to seek a better offer than Advent's 165p-a-share bid.

But it has stopped short of saying which way it will vote. The Sanderson comments came in a letter to Lady Cobham, who was married to former boss Sir Michael Cobham, the son of founder Sir Alan Cobham.

She wrote to Cobham's 15 largest shareholders urging them to vote against the deal.

She said the offer was far too low and that Advent would reap the benefits of the company's turnaround after a slew of profit warnings rocked the firm between 2015 and 2017.

Paaskesen said the firm 'broadly agrees' with her assessment of the offer. Sanderson's intervention comes as former naval chief Admiral Lord West said he is 'deeply concerned' about a sale.

He has urged the Government to assess the deal, adding another voice to a growing opposition led by the Cobham family that includes former defence secretary Michael Heseltine, former business secretary Vince Cable and former executives.

They have slammed the deal for undervaluing the firm and demanded that the Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace investigate the proposed takeover before allowing it to go ahead.

Leadsom has the power to intervene and block foreign buyouts if they pose a threat to national security, financial stability or media plurality.

She has met representatives from Cobham and Advent but has yet to suggest she will intervene.

Cobham, founded in 1934 by Sir Alan Cobham, who is said to be the inspiration for fictional hero Biggles, pioneered the technology for air-to-air refuelling.

Its products have been used in Concorde, F-35 fighter planes and the International Space Station.

Advent will need the support of 75 per cent of votes cast at the one-off meeting being held next Monday for the takeover to go through.

So far, it has the support of Cobham's management and top-10 investor Artemis Investment Management, which adds up to 5.2 per cent of the company's holdings.

Sanderson owns around 2.4 per cent of shares, making it the 11th largest shareholder.

Added together with the 1.5 per cent of shares owned by the Cobham family, it means almost 4 per cent of shares could be cast against the offer next week.

Meanwhile, powerful hedge funds including AQR Capital, Melqart Asset Management and Moni Partners are believed to have taken an almost 5 per cent stake in Cobham.

Their presence as short-term investors is thought by analysts to indicate that the deal is likely to go ahead.

Jamie Pike, the chairman of Cobham, has said it would be willing to accept higher offers - but none have yet come through.

Yesterday, the shares fell 1.9 per cent, or 3.1p, to 156.6p. Cobham and Advent declined to comment.

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