Green saga and the stirring of ancient suspicions

Topshop owner Sir Philip Green. Photo credit Ian WestPA Wire - via Jewish News
Topshop owner Sir Philip Green. Photo credit Ian WestPA Wire - via Jewish News

Sir Philip Green is back on the front pages and in leader columns amid allegations of bullying behaviour and sexual harassment. It is hard not to think that this is yet another embarrassment for the Jewish community following recent allegations made against Sir Martin Sorrell at WPP and, needless to say, the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which kicked off the whole ‘Me Too’ movement.

It doesn’t help Green that his love of celebrity friends means there are dozens of photos with people in the public eye ranging from Weinstein to model Kate Moss, who designed a clothing range for his Topshop chain.

As much as I, as a financial commentator, have been fiercely critical of Green in the past, particularly over his attempt to betray the BHS pensioners (now put right), one is a little less convinced of his culpability in the current imbroglio. It is no secret to anyone who had had dealings with the expelled Carmel College student that he is capable of foul-mouthed rants. In fact, almost every business journalist who has had dealings with Green will have memories of his bullying behaviour and liking for expletives.

Not just journalists either. The distinguished pensions campaigner and former minister in David Cameron’s government Baroness Ros Altmann, writing in the Daily Mail, recalled how she was subjected to email and verbal venom from Green when seeking to ensure justice for BHS pensioners.

As disturbing as all this is in the ‘Me Too’ age, none of it is surprising. Indeed, the use by Green’s business empire of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to shut up people who left his company after receiving a financial deal is not, as articles might make you think, an unusual occurrence.

There is not a substantial business in Britain that has not used such agreements rather than find allegations of inappropriate behaviour taken to an employment tribunal or dragged through the courts.

Indeed, when The Daily Telegraph reported that a leading anonymous businessman had taken out an injunction to keep the NDAs private, the speculation about the person concerned ensured he could have been one of many. Among those on the shortlist was the chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest banks, the UK’s most popular entrepreneur and a senior advertising industry executive.

My office knew he was the person concerned, but we could not report our finding as that would have been contempt of court. Labour peer Peter Hain intervened in the House of Lords. But as much as the press has contempt for public figures and celebrities who hide behind silencing orders, Hain’s intervention was totally out of order.

Lawyers saw it as a breach of privilege. But what was contemptible was Hain’s failure to reveal he is a consultant to the law firm Gordon Dadds LLP, which acted for The Telegraph. Hain, possibly inadvertently, placed himself in the middle of a commercial dispute between Green and the Barclay Brothers who own The Daily Telegraph.

For many years the Barclays and Green were business associates. They backed Green’s purchase of the Sears shoe chain of shops on the high street, which helped set the retailer on the road to riches before BHS and Arcadia.

Parts of the press have refused to let go of the allegations against Green of bullying, sexual harassment and anti-gay behaviour. Indeed, it was plastered all over last Saturday’s Guardian.

Green’s behaviour has been unfortunate, unacceptable and foolish and out of keeping with what is expected of business leaders in the 21st century. But he has been singled out in a sea of wrongdoing at a time of sensitivity in the Jewish community.

There is a danger of stirring up ancient suspicions.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor