Sir Philip Green hit back yesterday at a parliamentary inquiry criticising his role in the collapse of BHS, calling an MPs’ report on the retailer’s demise “bizarre” and “unsupportable”.
A review carried out by the tycoon’s lawyers, Lord Pannick QC and Michael Todd QC, ripped into the report’s findings, which hold Green responsible for leaving BHS with a £571 million pension deficit, taking out £400m in dividends and selling the business to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1.
The review said: “These dividends were lawful and were paid at a time when the BHS pension schemes were in surplus. BHS was not sold until ten 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.”
It said the main causes of the deficit were the increasing longevity of pensioners and the 2008 financial crisis.
Green said he invested more than his family took out through dividends, and his statement lambasted the work and pensions and the business, innovation and skills select committees for “very serious factual and legal errors”.
On BHS’s sale to Chappell, the statement – issued through Green’s holding company Taveta Investments – 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 sale to Chappell was described in Green’s review as an “honest mistake”.
It added: “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.”
The retailer’s collapse resulted in the loss of 11,000 jobs and has left 20,000 pensions in limbo as Green and the Pension Protection Fund remained locked in talks about the scheme’s future.
Politicians led by veteran Labour MP Frank Field have called on Green to stump up hundreds of millions to plug the gaping hole in BHS’s pension fund.
The tycoon’s report said “serious and extensive” efforts are being made to find a solution, adding: “We remain hopeful that a solution can be reached in the very near future.”
MPs are set to debate tomorrow whether Green should be stripped of his knighthood, awarded in 2006 for services to retail.