Philip Green hits out at 'trial by media' over BHS failure

LONDON (Reuters) - British retail tycoon Philip Green on Thursday hit out at UK lawmakers for leading what he called a “trial by media” in relation to last week’s fall into administration of department store BHS.

CEO Philip Green of Britain's retail clothing store Topshop poses before opening the chain's New York flagship store, U.S., November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo -

Topshop-owner Green, who owned BHS for 15 years until last year, said lawmakers had encouraged his “public vilification” in a letter to the chairmen of two parliamentary committees tasked with investigating what went wrong at the retailer.

The letter, which Green circulated to news media, marks his first public comments on BHS’s administration. In the letter, he also criticised the media for writing “much inaccurate and misleading” information.

BHS was placed into administration, a form of creditor protection, by owner Retail Acquisitions on April 25, putting the 88-year-old retailer at risk of disappearing from British shopping streets and jeopardizing 11,000 jobs.

Green sold BHS to Retail Acquisitions, a collection of little-known investors, for a nominal sum of a pound in March last year.

He had bought it for 200 million pounds in 2000 and when it was profitable paid out several hundreds of millions of pounds of dividends to his family.

With a pension deficit of 571 million pounds, the pensions regulator is probing whether BHS’s previous owners sought to avoid their obligations.

BHS is also being investigated by Britain’s Insolvency Service and lawmakers. Both the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have launched inquiries and Green has agreed to appear before them.

In his letter to the chairmen of those parliamentary committees, Frank Field and Iain Wright respectively, Green expressed concern at statements they have made to the media.

“For example, calling for me to lose my knighthood or suggesting that I have asset stripped BHS without regard to pensions and employees,” he wrote in the letter. “These statements suggest that you are leaping to conclusions before any evidence from any witness has been heard.”

Green added: “They suggest that there will be no real attempt to run your inquiries in a fair way and that the outcome is pre-determined.”

Green is expected to attend the committees’ hearings next month.

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Bill Rigby