Philip Green apologises to BHS staff… and tells Tory MP to stop staring at him
The business boss said that Richard Fuller was making him feel ‘uncomfortable’
Sir Philip Green today apologised to BHS workers for the collapse of the retail chain, but refused to be held responsible for the massive deficit in the company’s pension fund.
In often testy exchanges with MPs on the Work and Pensions committee, the billionaire tycoon insisted he had been the victim of "outrageous" and "rude" media claims about his business affairs.
But he began the session in less combative fashion by apologising for the collapse of BHS, which has led to up to 11,000 job losses.
The chairman of Arcadia group said he now regretted having sold the business to Dominic Chappell, a serial bankrupt.
"There’s certainly no intent at all on my part for anything to be like this and it didn’t need to be like this and I just want to apologise to all of the BHS people who have been involved in this and are involved," he said.
He claimed he was now working on a plan for the pension scheme, which was in surplus when he bought BHS but now has a £571m deficit. However, he declined to give more details of the plan.
Exchanges between Sir Philip and committee members were occasionally tetchy, particularly as the session of over three hours drew on.
The chair of the BIS committee, Iain Wright, accused Sir Philip of being "extraordinarily thin-skinned to even simple questions" and suggested he did not like having his authority questioned.
At one point early in proceedings, Sir Philip took issue with Richard Fuller, who he claimed was "staring" at him.
In an extraordinary exchange, Sir Philip stopped mid-sentence to rebuke the Tory MP. He said to Fuller: "Sir, do you mind not looking at me like that all the time, it's really disturbing. You just want to stare at me, it's uncomfortable."
A slightly confused Fuller replied: "I don't wish to make you feel uncomfortable, Sir Philip."
Then he made what appeared to be a reference Labour leader Jeremy Cobyn: "I think it is another parliamentary colleague that is known for his death stare."
Sir Philip initially threatened not to appear before MPs. Last week, the businessman claimed that the Labour MP was biased and called for his resignation.
Today, he mounted a robust defence over what he called "outrageous" media criticism of his handling of the firm, pointing out that Arcadia had pumped some £800m to try to turn BHS around, including several interest-free loans.
One of the areas the MPs were keen to investigate was why Sir Philip had chosen to sell BHS off to Chappell, given he had already twice filed for bankruptcy.
The billionaire tycoon admitted he had made a mistake in selling to Chappell, but insisted he had never deliberately misled anyone about the sale.
"Did we go out of our way intentionally to find somebody, anybody, in this case Chappell, to end up where we ended up? I think hopefully three hours in [to the session], whatever it is…you can accept that was not the case, OK?
"As I said at the beginning, just to repeat it, what happened is beyond horrible, sad, there was zero intention...either I leave here today you think I'm a liar or I'm telling you the truth, but I’m not a liar. Unfortunately we found the wrong guy...
"Would I do that deal again? No. Am I sorry we did it? Yes."