The UK Pensions Regulator (TPR) is pursuing a “cavalier crusade” against former BHS owner Philip Green, according to the businessman who bought the now-insolvent retailer in 2015.
Dominic Chappell, whose company Retail Acquisitions Limited (RAL) bought BHS from Green’s Arcadia Group last year, said his firm’s ability to successfully build up capital in support of the retailer was undermined by TPR.
Speaking at a parliamentary hearing of the joint work and pensions, and business innovations and skills committees, Chappell argued he could have put in place the working capital needed to turn around BHS “had the Pensions Regulator actually left us [RAL] alone”.
Chappell said TPR should have agreed an approach with BHS, and then pursued its “cavalier crusade” against Green and Arcadia at a later point .
His remarks likely reference the regulator’s decision to launch an anti-avoidance investigation in the wake of 2015’s sale, due to its concerns over the funding of the BHS schemes.
The two schemes reported a buyout deficit of £571m (€729m) when BHS entered administration earlier this year, and are now undergoing assessment by the Pension Protection Fund ahead of their potential entry into the lifeboat scheme.
Chappell alleged that RAL was “held to ransom” by both the regulator and Arcadia, despite later during questioning saying Green forbade him, as part of the terms of the BHS acquisition, from directly communicating with TPR prior to the deal finalising.
However, Chappell said he was not concerned about the lack of direct contact with TPR prior to the sale, as he had received assurances through lawyers in contact with the regulator that it would approve a proposed restructure of the scheme.
The scheme restructure, branded Project Thor and Project Vera depending on its iteration, was also supported by the chair of the scheme’s trustees, Chappell argued.
Chappell also dismissed claims by the regulator it only learned of BHS’s sale to RAL from media reports when it was announced.
“That’s a nonsense,” he said. “That is an absolute nonsense. They were fully abreast of our positon of buying BHS.”
The businessman also rejected calls by work and pensions select committee chair Frank Field, MP for the opposition Labour party, to provide the joint committee with further documents relating to the acquisition of BHS.
Explaining his reasons, Chappell said that his lawyers were not inclined to grant the committee’s requests until they had decided whether a court case could be brought against Arcadia Group in general, and Philip Green in particular.
Green is scheduled to give evidence to the joint committee on 15 June.