Sir Philip Green has warned MP Frank Field that his scathing media attacks are putting a rescue plan for BHS pensioners at risk.
Field, who co-led the Commons’ inquiry into the BHS collapse, retaliated by branding the tycoon’s behaviour as “evil” towards BHS pensioners.
Green sent his latest warning shot to Field after the MP was reported in The Times this weekend as asking “why the hell doesn’t he [Green] just sign the cheque?”. Green said this was “a step too far” and said Field’s comments threatened to derail any potential BHS pension settlement.
In a letter addressed to Field, Green wrote: “The false narrative around me and my family that you have sought to create, whether about the alleged ’plundering’ (your word) of BHS (including deliberately creating the false impression that dividends paid to my family by Arcadia had anything to do with BHS) or the motivation for the sale of BHS, does nothing at all to promote a pensions solution.”
“If you continue to seek to usurp the Pension Regulator’s role with your characteristically unfathomable statements and hurl daily abuse at us, any failure to arrive at a pensions solution will be down to you.”
Green added in the letter that he had started to make “real progress” with the Pensions Regulator in finding a solution to the BHS pension deficit. He said that his team will “do all we can to drive this forward to a positive conclusion.”
Field responded to Green’s letter by telling the BBC that he should face up to “the evil that he has done in destroying BHS, workers’ jobs, and pension fund liabilities”.
He said: “This is the man that’s responsible for the destruction of 11,000 jobs, putting 22,000 pensions at risk. He said he was going to ‘fix it, fix it, fix it’, when he was with us – he hasn’t done so.”
Field is already facing a lawsuit from Green after the MP appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week and made unfavourable comparisons between the Arcadia tycoon and the convicted fraudster and late newspaper owner Robert Maxwell.
Sir Philip Green’s letter in full
Dear Mr Field
Your interview in The Times today was a step too far, even by your own disgraceful standards. I have tried to stay silent in the face of your regular outbursts and to focus on the important task of working towards a solution for the BHS pensioners. But I am not prepared to continue to allow your abuse to go unanswered.
Even before the parliamentary inquiry started hearing from witnesses, you turned it into little more than a kangaroo court, with your constant press campaign barracking and insulting me and my family and your announcement from day one that the predetermined result of the inquiry was that I either sign a large cheque or lose my knighthood.
Much as you would love to, you cannot point to any rules or laws that I have broken. Because I have broken none. You hide behind parliamentary privilege by publicly traducing me and my family in select committee hearings with allegations of theft. Then, when you cannot resist making similar defamatory remarks whilst grandstanding in media interviews, you seek to avoid the consequences by privately backpedalling and getting your lawyers privately to communicate your assurance that you do not allege, or intend to make any allegation of, theft.
As you well know, there is a detailed process, legislated for by Parliament, around defined benefit pension schemes. Your repeated attempts to lead the public into thinking that it is simply a matter of me writing a cheque are utterly disingenuous.
The Pensions Regulator has its own processes that we are obliged to follow. We sought to agree a deal to solve the BHS pensions issue with the Pensions Regulator long before the March 2015 sale of BHS. We worked hard on that and spent considerable sums on professional adviser fees to try and make it happen. We have continued to engage with the Pensions Regulator ever since the sale of BHS and have co-operated fully with all of their many and extensive requests as they have worked through their statutory processes.
It is no secret that I have found these processes cumbersome and slow, but they are the processes which Parliament requires the Pensions Regulator to follow and the pace is determined by the Pensions Regulator, not by us.
I have been pleased that recently real progress has been made with the Pensions Regulator in progressing towards a solution for the BHS pension schemes. Our team of professional advisers has been instructed to ensure that, on our side, we do all we can to drive this forward to a positive conclusion.
But you should be in no doubt, Mr Field, that any solution relies on a voluntary decision on our side to support the BHS pension schemes. There is no legal liability to make any payment to support the schemes. Indeed, I am unaware of any precedent for any private company or individual doing so.
The false narrative around me and my family that you have sought to create, whether about the alleged “plundering” (your word) of BHS (including deliberately creating the false impression that dividends paid to my family by Arcadia had anything to do with BHS) or the motivation for the sale of BHS, does nothing at all to promote a pensions solution. It puts a solution at risk.
We are working towards a voluntary solution for the BHS pension schemes because we want to help the BHS pensioners. I will not be bullied by your press campaign and political grandstanding into supporting the BHS pension schemes. If you have any genuine interest in a positive outcome for the BHS pensioners, and not just your endless self-promotion, you will now finally recognise the reality that you are not the Pensions Regulator.
If you continue to seek to usurp the Pension Regulator’s role with your characteristically unfathomable statements and hurl daily abuse at us, any failure to arrive at a pensions solution will be down to you. The BHS pensioners can only hope that you now reign yourself in.
Sir Philip Green