Scottish & Newcastle's Scottish Courage division, the UK's leading brewer, is in advanced negotiations with members of the Theakston family to return the company, including the brewery and visitor centre and all associated ale brands, to their control.

The company said it is expected that these discussions will be finalised in a few weeks time and that the new owners will assume control of the T&R Theakston business in early October 2003.

"This will enable T&R Theakston to, once again, become an independent and family controlled business," Scottish Courage said.

The new business will be led by Simon Theakston, who will be joined by his three brothers and Collin Wood, a former executive from Scottish Courage who previously served as managing director of T&R Theakston.

"Returning the company to family control will enable the new management team to further develop the business and the excellent Theakston range of traditional ales, from their headquarters in the ancient North Yorkshire market town of Masham," Scottish Courage said in a statement.

Employees at the brewery have been briefed on the proposals and will be consulted on their views before the sale is finalised. If successful, there will be no impact on jobs in the brewery and existing employees will transfer to the new business.

Scottish Courage will retain a small but significant minority shareholding in the new T&R Theakston Ltd. Scottish Courage will also continue to distribute the Theakston brands on behalf of the new company.

John Dunsmore, chairman and managing director of Scottish Courage, said: "This is great news for Theakston ales and for the new business based at Masham. Under renewed family ownership, I am confident that the brewery will thrive and that we will see some exciting developments as the new team brings its influence to the business.

"I am also pleased to say that the Theakston ales will continue to play a very important part in our business and that Scottish Courage will continue to sell and deliver the beers to our many customers across the UK."