Death Threats at Failed U.K. Retailer as Money Goes Missing

  • BHS owner in Bahamas as stores went into administration: Topp
  • Chappell had his ‘fingers in the till,’ ex-CEO tells lawmakers

The cut-throat nature of British retailing was thrust into the open at a parliamentary hearing Wednesday as the former chief of the failed BHS store chain said owner Dominic Chappell threatened to kill him.

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Chappell made the threat after being challenged over a missing sum of 1.5 million pounds ($2.2 million), Darren Topp said in a parliamentary hearing on the collapse of the chain.

Darren Topp
Darren Topp
Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

“I said to him, ‘That’s theft,’” Topp told lawmakers. “If I take out the expletives, what he said to me was, ‘I have had enough of you telling me what to do. It’s my business and I can do what I want. If you kick off about it I’m going to come down there and kill you.’”

Topp said he knew that Chappell owned a gun and had considered calling the police. Chappell wasn’t asked about the allegation when he testified later.

The hearing is seeking to establish the causes of BHS’s demise, and to determine how closely previous owner Philip Green and his advisers scrutinized Chappell’s ability to run the struggling business. It’s the second time in as many days that the inner workings of Britain’s retail industry have been laid bare after Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct International, appeared before lawmakers on Tuesday.

One Pound

Among other revelations made by BHS chief Topp were that Chappell, a former race-car driver, was on a boat in the Bahamas on the day in April when BHS went into administration, a procedure similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. About a month later, the 88-year-old business was put into liquidation, leading to as many as 11,000 job losses. Chappell’s absence was “unacceptable,” Topp said.

Chappell, whose Retail Acquisitions Ltd. bought BHS from billionaire Green for 1 pound last year, gave evidence to the hearing separately.

The 1.5 million pounds referred to by Topp was to cover fees that were payable to a range of advisers and was transferred to a new entity called BHS Sweden, Chappell said. His absence on the day of the collapse was because administrator Duff & Phelps had told him to stay away from the company’s property, he said.

Rescue Blocked

Chappell also contended that Green blocked a planned rescue of BHS by Sports Direct’s Ashley. Green “went crazy” over the prospect of doing business with Ashley and caused BHS to go into administration, he said.

BHS owes Green’s Arcadia Group about 40 million pounds, according to a court document published in March. The billionaire will get to have his say when he appears in front of the parliamentary committee on June 15.

Tony Blair on Wednesday rejected calls for Green to be stripped of the knighthood he was awarded under the former Prime Minister’s leadership. “No. I don’t take a view on that at all,” Blair said in an interview.

‘Fingers in Till’

Topp said Chappell had his “fingers in the till” and that Retail Acquisitions had gained 1.8 million pounds when he bought the company, whose pension liabilities subsequently swelled to 571 million pounds.

Chappell said he made a profit from his 14-month ownership of BHS, despite overseeing its demise, claiming he “earned it” having fought “tooth and nail” for the business. He declined to confirm the amount to lawmakers.

Earlier, the committee heard from BHS’s former Chief Financial Officer Michael Hitchcock, who described Chappell as “a Premier League liar and a Sunday league retailer.”

Chappell tried to move the online and international units out of the company for his own benefit, Hitchcock said. Retail Acquisitions took 17 million pounds out of BHS under its ownership, putting in only 10 million pounds, Hitchcock said. Chappell said money he took out of BHS was for “fees we were due.”

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