One of Britain’s most high-profile businessmen has been named over allegations of sexual harassment and racist abuse—despite his efforts to block the misconduct allegations from being reported by the press.
Philip Green is the billionaire retail mogul and chairman of the Arcadia Group, which owns popular clothing brands including Topshop, Miss Selfridge, and Dorothy Perkins. On Thursday afternoon, Labour peer Peter Hain named Green as the anonymous individual at the center of sexual abuse allegations reported this week in the British press.
The Telegraph reported earlier this week on Tuesday that judges had blocked it from naming the leading businessman accused of sexual harassment and racially abusing his staff. The man was granted an injunction preventing the newspaper from revealing his identity after spending close to £500,000 on legal fees and a team of seven lawyers.
For More News Like This, Sign Up for Our Newsletter
Hain was able to identify Green due to a historic law that protects freedom of speech in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Parliamentary privilege allows for all proceedings of both Houses to be “privileged,” meaning that MPs and peers (such as Hain) cannot be prosecuted for anything they say in Parliament.
Hain told fellow peers in the House of Lords that he felt it was in the public interest for the allegations against Green to be made public. “I feel it’s 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 the full details of a story which is clearly in the public interest,” he said.
The Telegraph investigated the allegations against Green for eight months, revealing that he was accused of discreditable conduct by five people, all of whom were given “substantial payments” as part of non-disclosure agreeements (NDAs). Before Green was identified, one woman told the newspaper of an encounter with someone she believed to be the unnamed businessman.
“He was like a medieval king who was testing the ripeness of a piece of fruit,” she said. “Having his sweaty hand beneath my skirt was repulsive, but it was the power play involved that was the worst thing. He loved that I was scared.”
Watch: Chelsea Manning’s Attorney on Her Prison Sentence
In 2018, Sunday Times journalist Oliver Shah published a book alleging that Green was a bully who routinely humiliated his staff. In Damaged Goods: The Inside Story of Sir Philip Green, the Collapse of BHS and the Death of the High Street, Shah claims that Green also drove female employees to tears.
Today’s news raises significant questions about the use of non-disclosure agreements, which first came under scrutiny after former Harvey Weinstein employee Zelda Perkins broke hers in order to name him as an alleged abuser. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the government was committed to reforming the use of NDAs. “Non-disclosure agreements cannot stop people from whistleblowing, but it is clear that some employers are using them unethically,” she told the House of Commons.
Though Green was knighted for his services to British industry in 2006, he is no stranger to furore. In 2016, there was mass outcry after it emerged that Green and other shareholders had pocketed £586 million from department store BHS, despite the fact that the struggling business had a pensions deficit of £571 million. The company was subsequently collapsed and was unable to pay its employees’ pensions, leaving British taxpayers to foot the bill. (Green agreed to contribute to the shortfall only after Parliament threatened to strip him of his knighthood.)
Green was in the news earlier this month after a Topshop pop-up stand to promote a new feminist book was inexplicably torn down after only 20 minutes. The Guardian reported that the decision to dismantle the stand came after Green spotted the Feminists Don’t Wear Pink pop-up in the Oxford Circus branch of Topshop.
Green said in a statement of the Me Too allegations: “I am not commenting on anything that has happened in court or was said in Parliament today. 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. Arcadia and I take accusations and grievances from employees very seriously and in the event that one is raised, it is thoroughly investigated.
“Arcadia employs more than 20,000 people and in common with many large businesses sometimes receives formal complaints from employees. 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.”