Sir Philip Green hits back at MPs on BHS
Lawyers for Sir Philip Green have accused MPs of making “very serious factual and legal errors” in their report about the BHS collapse.
The review, commissioned by the retail tycoon, comes as parliament prepares to debate stripping him of his knighthood.
Lord Pannick QC and Michael Todd QC call the MPs” findings “bizarre” and “unsupportable”.
They claim Sir Philip”s decision to sell BHS to Dominic Chappell was an “honest mistake”.
A statement issued by Sir Philip”s holding company, Taveta Investments, said: “The Taveta directors very much regret the terrible impact that the failure of BHS has had on former BHS staff and BHS pensioners and we accept that, with hindsight, it was a mistake to sell BHS to Retail Acquisitions Limited and Dominic Chappell.
“But it was an honest mistake and the sale was made in good faith to a buyer who retained a large team of well-known professional advisers, including Olswang and Grant Thornton.”
However, it added: “There was nothing unlawful, improper or even unusual about Taveta and Sir Philip Green”s decision to assist Dominic Chappell and Retail Acquisitions Limited in the purchase of BHS. The Select Committees” criticism in this regard is bizarre.”
The QCs” review claimed that the select committees” inquiry process was “so unfair that, if parliamentary privilege did not prevent a legal challenge, a court would “set aside” the report”.
A joint report by MPs on the Business and Work and Pensions select committees held Sir Philip responsible for leaving BHS with a £571m pension deficit, taking about about £400m in dividends from the department store chain and selling it to Mr Chappell, a former bankrupt, for just £1.
The retailer”s collapse resulted in the loss of 11,000 jobs and has left 20,000 pensions in limbo as Sir Philip. The Pension Protection Fund remain in talks about the scheme”s future.
The Taveta statement said: “These dividends were lawful and were paid at a time when the BHS pension schemes were in surplus. BHS was not sold until 10 years later. The law does not prevent a company from paying dividends because of a risk that the company might become insolvent many years later.
“The main causes of the pension deficit were the increasing longevity of pensioners and the global financial crisis in 2008.”
Iain Wright, chair of the Business select committee, accused Sir Philip of trying to “wiggle off the hook for his responsibilities”.
“The report from Sir Philip Green”s no doubt expensively appointed lawyers is just the latest wheeze by Sir Philip to wiggle off the hook for his responsibilities to BHS pension holders.
“This legalistic opinion doesn”t question the facts of the unanimously agreed select committee report, but it does mirror Sir Philip”s litany of excuses for the collapse of BHS and for his delay in “sorting” the BHS pension deficit.”
Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions committee, said the report was agreed unanimously by MPs on two committees and based on “huge amounts of evidence”.
“MPs are entitled to have views and to take those views with them into parliament. That one of the country”s top legal minds has been drawn in to defend Sir Philip”s actions shows how Herculean that task is. But the House will draw its own conclusions later this week,” he said.
A debate in the House of Commons on Thursday will discuss whether Sir Philip”s knighthood, awarded in 2006 for services to retail, should be removed.