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Sir Philip Green apologises to workers for 'hardship' caused by BHS collapse

Published 18/10/2016

Sir Philip Green (back to camera) giving evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee
Sir Philip Green (back to camera) giving evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee

Retail mogul Sir Philip Green has apologised to workers for the "hardship and sadness" caused by the collapse of BHS.

In an interview with ITV News, the former BHS owner said that fixing the failed retailer's pension deficit was now his number one priority.

"I want to start with saying how sad and very, very, very sorry I am for all the hardship and sort of sadness caused to all the people who worked there, and all the pensioners," he told ITV.

The former BHS owner has been denounced for taking more than £400 million in dividends from the now collapsed high street retailer, affecting more than 11,000 jobs, leaving it with a £571 million pension deficit, and selling it to a man with no retail experience.

However, Sir Philip stressed that he "did everything possible" to keep the business from going under.

"I hope and believe all the people that worked very closely with me at BHS for all those years, and some for the whole journey, will know it was never my intention for the business to have the ending it did."

But the retail tycoon admitted that it was a mistake to sell the business to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell, who acquired the business for just £1.

"I don't want to make any excuse. He was clearly, categorically the wrong buyer," he said.

"But we made that decision and, you know, for the last year, and on a daily basis, I, and my family, have got to live with this horrid decision, and trust me, these are not fun days."

Sir Philip also denied claims by Work and Pensions Committee chairman Frank Field, who has accused the former BHS boss of plundering the company, after taking more than £400 million in dividends.

He said that the dividends were proportionate to the company's profits, adding that the retailer at the time was paying £160 million in profits.

"The dividends were not funded out of debt, as has been previously suggested, they weren't stolen or taken out of anyone else's money, they were monies made."

Meanwhile, a review carried out by the tycoon's lawyers, Lord Pannick QC and Michael Todd QC, has ripped into a parliamentary inquiry criticising his role for the retailer's collapse, calling the MPs' report "bizarre" and "unsupportable".

But Mr Field defended the report, saying it was "agreed unanimously" by MPs from two different select committees and was based on "huge amounts of evidence".

"My own views were shaped by that evidence as well as the circumstances of those former BHS workers whose jobs have been lost and pensions put at risk. MPs are entitled to have views and to take those views with them into Parliament," Mr Field said.

MPs are set to debate on Thursday whether Sir Philip should be stripped of his knighthood, awarded in 2006 for services to retail.

Iain Wright, chairman of the BIS Select Committee, accused Sir Philip of trying to "wiggle off the hook for his responsibilities".

He added: "The report from Sir Philip Green's no doubt expensively-appointed lawyers is just the latest wheeze by Sir Philip to wiggle off the hook for his responsibilities to BHS pension holders.

"This legalistic opinion doesn't question the facts of the unanimously-agreed Select Committee report but it does mirror Sir Philip's litany of excuses for the collapse of BHS and for his delay in 'sorting' the BHS pension deficit.

"The Select Committees heard hours of oral testimony and considered thousands of pages of written evidence in this inquiry and there will be a welcome opportunity to air these issues further in Thursday's debate."

Mr Field said Sir Philip is "running the Arcadia group into the ground like BHS".

He told Channel 4 News: "I think the word which I emphasised, and it's in the report, about plundering these assets is highly appropriate."

Asked if he regretted making comparisons between Sir Philip and media mogul Robert Maxwell, who raided the pension pot of the Mirror Group newspaper business, the Labour MP replied: "I don't and he was going to take me to court and hasn't taken me to court.

"It's quite interesting that these two highly paid lawyers have not done so."

Conservative former minister Anna Soubry said Sir Philip was "revoltingly greedy".

She told ITV's The Agenda: " He is just the embodiment of what is so wrong with the worst bits of British business.

"And he just comes over as somebody who is just interested in... I don't mind people making money, I don't have a problem with people making money, but I do have a problem with people being greedy, and I think it's as simple as that. I just think he's really rather revoltingly greedy."

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