An MP has said former BHS boss Sir Philip Green should stop “messing around” and “write a big cheque” after the retail tycoon threatened to sue the politician for “defamatory statements”.
Sir Philip was branded the “unacceptable face of capitalism” in a damning report from MPs on two Commons select committees, which found he systematically extracted huge sums from his former firm, BHS, while leaving its pension fund in huge deficit.
Now lawyers acting for Sir Philip are demanding an “immediate apology” from Labour MP Frank Field, co-chair of the inquiry, for comments he made on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Field said Sir Philip “behaved like Napoleon”, and “plundered” and “raked off” money from the high street retailer. Field also compared the entrepreneur to late media mogul Robert Maxwell, who took millions from the Mirror Group’s pension funds, which now has a pensions black hole.
A letter to Field from the law firm Schillings reads:
“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.”
The law firm also warned Field had repeated claims in the media that he made during the inquiry that were not protected by parliamentary privilege, which allows MPs and peers to speak without the risk of being sued.
The firm, which has given the MP 24 hours to withdraw “defamatory statements”, added: “Our client requires an immediate and fulsome apology in relation to the allegation.”
But Field remained relaxed. He told the BBC:
“Instead of writing a big cheque he is firing off lawyers letters. He needs to stop messing around and write a big cheque.”
In the report, the committees were damning about Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS for £1, and the “directors, advisers and hangers-on” associated with the deal, and said ultimate responsibility lay with Sir Philip.
When Sir Philip acquired BHS in 2000 for £200 million, the report said the company pension schemes were in surplus, but the high level of dividends paid out – more than double the after-tax profits of £208 million between 2002-04 – had left it weakened.