Business

BHS: Philip Green demands 'immediate apology' from Frank Field

Philip Green Image copyright Reuters

Former BHS owner Sir Philip Green has demanded an "immediate apology" from MP Frank Field for comments he made about his running of the collapsed retailer.

Speaking to the BBC, the co-chair of an inquiry into BHS compared Sir Philip unfavourably to late media magnate Robert Maxwell, who took millions from the Mirror Group's pension funds.

"This statement is highly defamatory and completely false," said law firm Schillings, representing Sir Philip.

Mr Field said he would not apologise.

He told BBC business editor Simon Jack that Sir Philip's conduct was "displacement therapy".

"Instead of writing a big cheque he is firing off lawyers' letters. He needs to stop messing around and write a big cheque".

His earlier remarks were made on Radio 4's Today programme.

The development came after a damning MPs' report, published on Monday, concluded Sir Philip, the billionaire former owner of BHS, extracted large sums and left the business on "life support".

The report, from the Business, Innovation and Skills and Work and Pensions committees and co-chaired by Mr Field, did not suggest that Sir Phillip had done anything illegal.

But it said his failure to resolve BHS's £571m pension deficit was a major factor in the firm's demise.

The pension scheme is now in the Pension Protection Fund, meaning that its 20,000 members will receive less money than they had expected

Sir Philip, responding late on Monday to the report, called it "the predetermined and inaccurate output of a biased and unfair process".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption BHS is in the process of closing down

BHS is in the process of closing down after what the MPs' report called the "shambolic" ownership of Dominic Chappell, who bought the retail chain from Sir Philip for £1 last year.

BHS was "hurriedly sold to a manifestly unsuitable" buyer in that deal, even though Sir Philip knew Mr Chappell was a former bankrupt with no retail experience, the MPs found.

The sale went unchallenged because Sir Philip ran his retail empire as "a personal fiefdom", they said.

'Sad and sorry'

"With the benefit of hindsight, clearly Retail Acquisitions and Mr Chappell were a very bad choice as purchaser on many fronts and I feel badly let down," said Sir Philip.

But he said the sale of BHS was "made one hundred per cent in good faith".

"As I told the committees, I am trying to find a solution for the BHS pension and am continuing to work with the Regulator to achieve an outcome.

"I am sad and sorry for all the BHS people caught up in this horrid story, but I do not believe that this story is being in any way fairly portrayed."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media caption"My advice to him all along was to pay up," says Frank Field.

Mr Field and Sir Philip have had a long-running feud, with the Monaco-based businessman accusing the Labour chair of the Work and Pensions Committee of bias and conducting a "trial by media".

Sir Philip originally refused to appear before MPs last 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."


Schillings' letter to Frank Field on behalf of Sir Philip Green in full:

25 July 2016

URGENT

Dear Sir

SIR PHILIP GREEN

We act for Sir Philip Green and write with reference to your interview on Radio 4's Today programme this morning.

In that interview you alleged that our client had stolen money, specifically from the BHS and Arcadia pension funds. This statement is highly defamatory and completely false.

Our client has never stolen any money from BHS, Arcadia or the pension funds and you know that. In particular, there is nothing in the recent Report of the Work and Pensions and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, (the Report) (of which you were one of the Chairs) to support your allegation.

Clearly an allegation that our client is a thief is likely to cause him serious harm.

Further, in relation to the recent Parliamentary hearings and the Report and allegations made there you were protected by privilege. That does not apply to the interview this morning (or any others you intend to make).

In the circumstances, our client requires an immediate and fulsome apology in relation to the allegation (to be agreed in terms of the content and manner by this firm in advance of publication).

We look forward to hearing from you on this point within 24 hours. This matter is clearly urgent as your defamatory statements are being repeated in the media, for which you are undoubtedly liable.

The other remedies to which our client is clearly entitled will very much depend on form and manner of your response and in the meantime, all of our client's rights are reserved.

Please acknowledge receipt.

Yours faithfully

SCHILLINGS


More on this story