Former BHS owner Dominic Chappell was labelled a liar who allegedly threatened to kill the retailer’s chief executive Darren Topp.
The claims were made to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee today as its investigation into the collapse of BHS continued.
Topp and Michael Hitchcock – who was brought in to advise BHS on financial matters as Topp became increasingly concerned about the business under the ownership of Chappell and Retail Acquisitions – described how money was taken out of BHS rather than invested in its recovery, following its sale last year by tycoon Sir Philip Green.
Topp described how he initially believed BHS could be turned around after Retail Acquisitions bought it for £1 in March 2015, and he was “honoured” to be made chief executive.
However, he quickly began to lose faith after Retail Acquisitions failed to come good on promises it had made about its expertise in property and finance-raising and he became increasingly concerned about the future of BHS and the behaviour of Chappell who, said Topp, effectively “had his fingers in the till”.
Hitchcock said BHS was “stacked with value” when it was sold and could have been a viable turnaround but came to the conclusion that Chappell was a “premier league liar”.
The pair described how money was taken out of BHS after the change of ownership, and how they changed bank mandate details in a bid to put a stop to the transfers.
However, even as BHS inched towards collapse, Chappell allegedly moved £1.5m to an account unconnected to BHS.
Topp said his initial thought was to call the police, but instead he rang Chappell to discuss the matter and said “That’s theft”.
Topp said: “If I take out all the expletives in between, he told me not to kick off… and said I’m going to come down and kill you.”
Chappell had told Topp he was a former SAS man and Topp believed he had a gun so was unnerved by the threat.
Separately, Hitchcock said he believed that a solution could have been found to BHS’s pension deficit and it “absolutely did not need to go into the PPF [Pension Protection Fund]”.
He said the process involved in such situations is “not fit for the current commercial world” and not in the interests of pensioners.
Topp described last Thursday, when BHS administrators decided the business would have to be wound down, as “the saddest day of my career”.
Chappell will face the MPs later this morning.