Business

BHS: Philip Green demands apology for 'outrageous' claim

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Media caption"What's required is very large cheque" - Frank Field to BHS managers

Former BHS owner Sir Philip Green has demanded an apology for an "outrageous outburst" by MP Frank Field as the row over the retailer's collapse escalates.

Sir Philip said the chairman of a Commons inquiry into BHS's collapse had shown "shocking behaviour".

Mr Field had said the whole BHS episode gave the impression that business was about "nicking money off other people".

Sir Philip hit back: "Accusing me and my family of theft is totally false and unacceptable on any basis."

The Work and Pensions Committee and the Business Committee have been holding a joint inquiry into the collapse of BHS, which has left a hole in the pension fund and up to 11,000 job losses.

Sir Philip sold the department store chain to Dominic Chappell's company Retail Acquisitions for £1 last March.

Image copyright European Photopress Agency

But Sir Philip has come under scrutiny for the £400m in dividends taken out of the firm during his 15-year ownership, his management of the pension scheme, and his decision to sell the business to former racing car driver and bankrupt Mr Chappell, who had no retail experience.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Paul Budge, the finance director of Sir Philip's Arcadia Group, repeatedly refused to blame the billionaire retail tycoon for the department store chain's collapse, prompting Mr Field's anger.

'Offensive'

Mr Field expressed his exasperation at his refusal to pinpoint blame as well as pledges that Sir Philip would "fix" the pension problem at BHS, which had a £571m deficit when the retailer collapsed.

"We're fed up of hearing 'I'm about to fix it'. He does not fix it. What's required is a very large cheque from the Green family who have done so well out of the whole of this.

"The city is furious with your behaviour, the image you put over is that everybody in business is not about creating jobs, about spreading wealth but it's about nicking money off other people.

"Sir Philip could fix this today if he was serious," he said.

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Media captionGoldman Sachs boss rejects BHS blame

Sir Philip's was scathing in response, saying in a emailed statement: "Mr Field's outrageous outburst today demonstrated yet again his clear prejudice against myself, my wife and my executives, who turned up for a second time."

"He arrived very late, offered no apology, heard no evidence, clearly just to put on a ten minute show and was extremely rude. Accusing me and my family of theft is totally false and unacceptable on any basis."

"The committee was yesterday made fully aware of the fact that a solution for the BHS pension funds is being worked on. His behaviour is as far as you can get from being helpful to anyone in this situation.

"Mr Field needs to apologise for his shocking and offensive behaviour."

The MP and Sir Philip have had a long-running feud, with the Monaco-based businessman accusing Mr Field of bias and conducting a "trial by media".

Sir Philip originally refused to appear before the hearing earlier this month unless Mr Field resigned as chairman.

He eventually relented saying it "would be the first and only opportunity I have had to tell my side of the very sad BHS story."

'Sniff test'

In Wednesday's hearing, MPs also quizzed three Goldman Sachs executives including the bank's vice chairman Michael Sherwood who has been described as the "gatekeeper" for the sale of BHS to Dominic Chappell's Retail Acquisitions last March.

Mr Sherwood - an adviser to Sir Philip for more than a decade - rejected the description, saying the the deal did not pass the bank's "sniff test", and repeating its previous claims that the deal was "too small" for it to provide anything more than preliminary observations.

The statement appears to contradict ex-BHS owner Sir Philip Green's claim that he "one million per cent" would not have sold the retailer to Mr Chappell if it had not passed the bank's informal vetting.

Mr Sherwood also said the bank was not paid for the work it did on the deal.

Image copyright Tim Whitby, Getty Images
Image caption Goldman Sachs is now reviewing its relationship with Sir Philip

'Absolutely not'

"Our role was extremely limited," Mr Sherwood said.

Asked by MPs if he accepted any blame for the chain's subsequent collapse, Mr Sherwood answered "absolutely not".

He said his one regret was that the firm had not "documented more clearly our role in writing so we would not have had the subsequent confusion we are gong through today".

The bankers said they provided a range of services to Sir Philip, including helping to manage his family's wealth, which Goldman Sachs has done since 2008.

However, Mr Sherwood said the bank was now reviewing its relationship with Sir Philip "as all this has come to pass".

Asked if that meant Goldman Sachs would not work again for the retail tycoon, Mr Sherwood said it depended on the nature of the deal.

'Earlier this month, administrator Duff & Phelps, which took control of BHS in April, was forced to admit defeat in its attempts to find a buyer for the department store

It blamed "seismic shifts" in the retail sector for the collapse of the chain.

The stores are now in the process of being wound down.

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