The row over the collapse of 88-year-old retailer BHS is getting increasingly ugly, with Labour MP Frank Field and former BHS owner Sir Philip Green trading blows in the press.
Green, who bought the chain in 2000 for £200 million but sold it for just £1 last year, has called for one of the key MPs probing the collapse to “stand down from the inquiry immediately as he is clearly prejudiced.”
Green made the comments to the Financial Times after Frank Field, the Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, told the same paper he would recommend stripping Green of his knighthood if the billionaire did not meet the pension deficit left by the failing chain. The Work and Pensions Select Committee is holding a joint inquiry into the collapse of BHS alongside Parliament’s Business Select Committee.
Green hit back, telling the FT:
I am horrified that Frank Field is prepared to make comments like this in public. I had in principle agreed to attend a hearing on 15 June. Clearly he has already made his decision as to what he feels the punishment should be without even hearing any evidence from anybody about BHS or the circumstances of the last 15 years….
As Monday is the first hearing with the regulator and the PPF, how can this be a balanced hearing based on this outrageous outburst this afternoon?
I think Mr Field needs to stand down from the inquiry immediately as he is clearly prejudiced.
The call for Field to resign is an escalation on a letter sent by Green to Field and Iain Wright, chair of the Business Select Committee, earlier on Thursday.
In it, Green accused the pair of “public vilification of witnesses” and concludes: “I would like your assurances please that you will cease this trial by media and that from now on your inquiries will be conducted in a manner that is fair to all involved.”
BI has contacted Field and will update when we get a response.
BHS faces an estimated pension shortfall of £571 million, although Green disputes this figure. MPs are angry that Green did not do more to tackle this pensions black hole during his time in charge of the retailer. He took £400 million in dividend payments from the business during his tenure.
They also question the due diligence done of the sale of the business. Dominic Chappell, who bought the chain from BHS, is a twice bankrupt former racing driver with no prior experience of retail.