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Retail chain back in administration as fears grow for jobs

Around 500 jobs are under threat after discount retailer Ethel Austin went into administration for the fourth time in as many years.

The appointment of Duff -amp; Phelps as administrator comes a year after the chain, which closed its last Northern Ireland store in 2011, was rescued from collapse by former Blackwells bookshop chain director Sue Townsend.

Duff -amp; Phelps said redundancies and store closures cannot be ruled out, but they are continuing to trade the 48-strong chain while seeking a buyer.

Joint administrators Philip Duffy and Sarah Bell said that they were "urgently" reviewing the financial position of the company.

Ethel Austin, which also trades as Life -amp; Style, has suffered a "marked downturn" amid the recession, according to Duff -amp; Phelps.

The Ethel Austin chain, which was founded in Liverpool in 1934, has struggled to survive amid tough retail conditions and in the face of fierce competition from rival budget chains such as Primark and Matalan, as well as from the big supermarkets.

The group has shed hundreds of stores and thousands of staff since falling into administration in 2008.

It employed 2,900 staff and had 300 stores before the troubles struck in 2008.

Ms Townsend had hoped that she could turn the fortunes of the retailer around by refocusing on its roots in the north west of England.

Before her rescue attempt, previous owner Elaine McPherson also pledged to breathe new life into the chain.

Ms McPherson - a former chief executive at Ethel Austin and joint-owner of MK One - bought the group out of administration twice, in 2008 and 2010, saying she would return it to its "former glory".

The womenswear business was founded by Ethel Austin and her husband George Austin in their Liverpool council house in 1934.