Trinity Mirror’s planned £126.7m takeover of Express Newspapers has been hit with a government probe into the deal.

Government regulator the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will investigate whether Trinity Mirror’s acquisition of Northern & Shell’s newspapers and magazines stable, which include the Express titles and celebrity magazine OK!, will damage competition in the UK media sector.

The planned purchase has already alarmed retailers, with margins being cut and cover prices bumped up in the wake of the takeover. Weeks after the deal was announced in February, retail margins dropped on Express and Star newspapers from 24.2% to 22.5% for weekday publications and 21% for weekend newspapers.

The CMA has called on the industry to submit evidence to the investigation before 25 April. It has a 7 June deadline to decide whether to give the merger the go-ahead or to delay it while a deeper investigation is carried out. 

The NFRN has welcomed the news and said it will submit evidence. President Linda Sood said: “We will remind the CMA that just a handful of public companies and individuals own the 11 daily newspapers and nine Sunday publications that now exist, and this will be further reduced by the Mirror buyout.

“Secondly, the worst fears of independent retailers were recognised when cover prices on the daily and weekend copies of both the Express and Star increased but the margins that news stockists received were slashed.”

Trinity Mirror can expect further scrutiny, as culture secretary Matt Hancock is going to consider whether the deal raises concerns about ‘media plurality’ in the UK.