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BHS inquiry chairman 'should resign'

Do Not UseDo Not Use 6/05/2016
BHS store © Getty Images BHS store

The former owner of BHS, Sir Philip Green, has called on the chairman of a Commons committee examining the collapse of the UK chain to resign.

BHS store © Getty Images BHS store

Frank Field, of the Work and Pensions Committee, had said Sir Philip's knighthood should be removed if he did not repay £571m to BHS's pension fund.

Sir Philip said Mr Field should stand down "as he is clearly prejudiced".

Separately, former Mark and Spencer chairman Lord Myners has been appointed to advise the MPs on BHS's collapse.

Lord Myners was on the M&S board when it fought off a bid from Sir Philip in 2004.

Referring to Mr Field's comment, Sir Philip said it was an "outrageous outburst", adding that he was "horrified" that the MP "is prepared to make comments like this in public".

In his first public comments on the collapse of BHS, Sir Philip said: "Clearly he has already made his decision as to what he feels the punishment should be without even hearing any evidence from anybody about BHS or the circumstances of the last 15 years."

A committee source stressed Mr Field's remarks were his own personal views.

Sir Philip bought BHS in 2000 for £200m but sold it to Retail Acquisitions last year for £1.

He has faced criticism about his role after BHS went into administration last month, threatening thousands of jobs.

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Broken promises at BHS?

The demise of BHS on the High Street

'Trial by media'

Sir Philip has agreed to appear before the Work and Pensions Committee and the Business Innovation and Skills Committee, chaired by Iain Wright, to answer questions about the collapse.

Sir Philip has written to the two Commons committee chairmen asking for an end to his "trial by media".

In it Sir Philip said he wanted to record his concerns about various statements they had made to the press "for example, calling for me to lose my knighthood or suggesting that I have asset-stripped BHS without regard to pensions and employees.

"These statements suggest that you are leaping to conclusions before any evidence from any witness has been heard.

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

Insolvency investigation

He added that witnesses would be less willing to provide voluntary assistance if the committee chairmen did not act in a responsible way.

Sir Philip said he welcomed the opportunity to assist committees that were "genuinely intended to get to the truth in a fair and balanced way and on the basis of actual facts."

Mr Field's remarks were made in a personal capacity to the Financial Times and have not been discussed officially by the two committees involved.

He confirmed to the BBC that he had received the letter and added: "Parliament will not be bullied."

The BBC has not been able to reach Mr Wright for a comment.

On Wednesday, Business Secretary Sajid Javid ordered the Insolvency Service to investigate the collapse of BHS immediately.

Mr Javid said in a statement: "This investigation will look at the conduct of the directors at the time of insolvency and any individuals who were previously directors. Any issues of misconduct will be taken very seriously."

At the time of BHS's sale last year, there were questions over the lack of retail experience of Dominic Chappell and his team at Retail Acquisitions, which became the majority shareholder of the department store chain.

A fortnight ago, the business fell into administration with debts of £1.3bn - including a pension deficit of £571m - putting 11,000 jobs at risk across 164 stores nationwide.

Sir Philip is believed to have offered to provide about £80m to help plug the pension deficit, but he has already faced accusations from Mr Wright that he crashed BHS "into a cliff".

Pensions questions

Ahead of Sir Philip's appearance, the Work and Pensions Committee is due to hear from the Pensions Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund, BHS Pension Trustees, and Mr Chappell.

There is no suggestion that Sir Philip did anything illegal.

However, last week Lord Myners told the BBC Sir Philip had big questions to answer over his stewardship of BHS.

Lord Myners said: "The big question is whether when Philip Green sold BHS to a group of individuals with no retail experience, led by a former mini racing car driver and twice bankrupt person... that the pension scheme had enough assets to meet its liabilities."

On Friday, the Work and Pensions Committee appointed Lord Myers, who also served as City minister under Gordon Brown, to lead a team of financial experts who would help MPs investigate the collapse of BHS.

Sir David Norgrove, chairman of the Low Pay Commission and former chairman of M&S's pension fund, has also been recruited as a specialist adviser to the committee.

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