LONDON (AFP) - British fashion tycoon Philip Green has denied “unlawful sexual or racist behaviour” after a lawmaker named him on Thursday (Oct 25) as having used an injunction to suppress the publication of harassment allegations by five employees.
Peter Hain, a House of Lords peer, claimed Green – whose international clothing empire includes the popular Topshop and Topman brands – was behind a court-issued injunction on Tuesday preventing sexual harassment and racial abuse accusations against the businessman being printed.
The order had led media outlets to cry foul about being “gagged” by rich and powerful tycoons, and prompted Prime Minister Theresa May to accuse unnamed employers of abusing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
In a statement late on Thursday, Green said he would not comment “on anything that has happened in court or was said in Parliament today”.
But he added: “To the extent that it is suggested that I have been guilty of unlawful sexual or racist behaviour, I categorically and wholly deny these allegations.”
The billionaire said Arcadia Group, the holding company he controls, takes employee accusations “very seriously” and thoroughly investigates them.
“In some cases these are settled with the agreement of all parties and their legal advisers.
“These settlements are confidential so I cannot comment further on them,” he added.
The allegations emerged earlier this week after The Daily Telegraph gave its entire front page Wednesday to a story headlined: “The British #MeToo scandal which cannot be revealed.”
The newspaper said the second-most senior judge in England had issued a temporary injunction the previous day stopping the publication of the accusations against a leading British businessman.
Amid widespread criticism over the court order, several members of parliament threatened to reveal the boss’s name, and on Thursday afternoon Hain told the House of Lords he would use his “parliamentary privilege” to make the disclosure.
“I feel it is my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of full details of a story which is clearly in the public interest,” he said.
Hain said he learned the name after being “contacted by someone intimately involved in the case”.
The Daily Telegraph said the accused man had hired seven lawyers and spent nearly £500,000 (S$885,000) in legal fees to settle the complaints using NDAs.
It followed up the story with another one on Thursday in which a woman identified only as a “well-known socialite” said she believed the same businessman slid a hand up her skirt at a function a decade ago.
NDAs are signed by companies and their executives to prevent business secrets from leaking out.
Their use – by high-profile figures including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and lawyers for US President Donald Trump – has been a source of debate since the #MeToo movement first gained momentum last year.
May stressed in parliament Wednesday that NDAs “cannot stop people from whistleblowing”.
Billionaire Green’s reputation was already damaged by a 2016 scandal in which the collapse of his BHS retail chain left a £571 million deficit in its pension fund.
Following Thursday’s revelations, Vince Cable, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, called for him to lose his knighthood if the allegations are true.
Analysts noted although the claims are unproven, they could be “highly damaging for both him and the various retail businesses he owns”, predicting there could be calls to boycott his stores.
Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, said: “Unlike the pension scandal, which was complex and nuanced and readily overlooked by many consumers, this is a very personal and emotional situation.
“The sexual abuse of women is not something people forgive or forget, and it will weigh on people’s minds when they decide where to shop.”