Retail billionaire Sir Philip Green has made his first public comments since the collapse of BHS into administration last week, an event that many in the press and Parliament have blamed him for in part.
Sir Philip will be grilled by multiple investigations into the retailer’s collapse, which has left a £571 million pension plan deficit that the taxpayer must mop up. Sir Philip bought the retailer in 2000 for £200 million, took £400 million of dividend payments during his 15-year tenure before selling the struggling store last year for £1.
MPs have criticised his decision to sell the chain to Dominic Chappell, a twice bankrupt former racing driver with no retail experience. Two Parliamentary Select Committees have summoned Sir Philip to justify the sale.
Iain Wright MP, who leads the House of Commons business select committee, told Radio 4: “It’s a case of ‘is it right that people can buy a company, strip it, in many respects, of cash in terms of dividends without real regard to pensions or to employees and then sell it for a pound to untried and untested people who then crash it into a cliff?'”
Tory MP Richard Fuller has called Green the “unacceptable face of capitalism” in a commons debate and Green is facing calls from Labour MP John Mann to give up his Knighthood unless he pays back the £400 million in dividends he took out of BHS.
Sir Philip has until now remained silent, refusing to speak to press. But he has now responded to the vitriol, circulating a letter he sent a to Wright and Work and Pensions Committee chairman Frank Field to the press.
In it, Green says that there is “much inaccurate and misleading information” about his stewardship of BHS in the press. The billionaire asks for the Parliamentary inquiries to be “fair to all involved and says that statements on his Knighthood and asset stripping “suggest that you are leaping to conclusions before any evidence from any witness has been heard.”
He says MPs are encouraging the “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.”
Here’s the full letter, a copy of which was sent to BI:
Dear Messrs Field and Wright,
I refer to your joint letter dated 28 April and to Mr Field’s letter dated 3 May in relation to your invitation to me to give oral evidence to inquiries being conducted by the House of Commons Select Committees that you chair.
Much inaccurate and misleading information about my actions in relations to BHS has been written in the press. I therefore welcome the opportunity t0 assist inquiries by your Committees that are genuinely intended to get the truth in a fair and balanced way and on the basis of actual facts.
I do, however, wish to record my concerns about various statements you have made in the press (for example, calling for me to lose my knighthood or suggesting that I have asset stripped BHS without regard to pensions and employees). These statements suggest that you are leaping to conclusions before any evidence from any witness has been heard. They suggest that there will be no real attempt to run your inquiries in a fair way and that the outcome is pre-determined.
The inquiries of your committees depend on the voluntary assistance of witnesses. As you are aware, your inquiries now overlap with a number of parallel regulatory and other investigations and proceedings. You must appreciate that witnesses will be less willing to offer your Committees their assistance if the Committee Chairs do not act in a responsible way, in particular appearing to encourage public vilification of witnesses before the inquiries have even begun.
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.
SIR PHILIP GREEN
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