Can Sir Philip hold onto his ‘Topman’ title?

Recent allegations of sexual misconduct against Sir Philip Green, owner of Arcadia Group that includes Topshop, Topman, Wallis and Miss Selfridge, have renewed speculation about the removal of his prestigious knighthood.

Columnists and MPs are calling for him to be stripped of his knighthood and how long Sir Philip can retain it is getting more and more precarious by the day. The business community, too, is distancing themselves from him and Simon Cowell, reality TV judge and producer, is reported to be cutting him out of his Syco Entertainment business.

So far the controversial businessman has managed keep a grip on his knighthood despite MPs voting to approve a motion in 2016 asking the Honours Forfeiture Committee to recommend that his knighthood be taken away over the way he sold his retail chain BHS for a mere £1. This left a massive hole in the staff pension pot and the loss of thousands of jobs but Sir Philip did pay £363 million into the pension fund helping him to retain his title. 

This was unprecedented action by MPs but it was only advisory and the final decision over the stripping of Sir Philip’s title is made by the Honours Forfeiture Committee.

No matter what your view is of Sir Philip, he is innocent until proved guilty by a court. Trial by media doesn’t count. However, if he were to be found guilty in a court of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more, the Honours Forfeiture Committee would have no choice but to take his title away. We would only hear about it if the committee placed an announcement in the London Gazette.

Lord Hain’s decision to name Sir Philip in the House of Lords as the individual who obtained an interim-injunction against the Daily Telegraph has polarised opinion.  On the one hand, his plaudits state that he has stood up against the rich and powerful who use non-disclosure agreements to suppress their victims.  On the other, his critics argue that he has brazenly flouted the rule of law: parliament ought not to seek to oust the court’s jurisdiction.

It can safely be assumed that each of the agreements for the five employees alleged to have been subjected to Sir Philip’s misconduct were entered in to by choice.

As Brett Wilson solicitors point out: “They were therefore not silenced against their will, nor have they been prevented from reporting the alleged conduct to the appropriate bodies.  Their independent legal advisers would have doubtless warned their clients of the implications of entering such agreements. 

“It can safely be assumed therefore that the employees signed the agreements with their eyes wide open, in the knowledge that there were alternative routes they could take if they wished for their stories to enter the public domain. In view of these facts, the public interest in preserving confidentiality is strong, and ought only to be trumped by an extremely compelling public interest in disclosure.  That, in turn, would depend on the details and circumstances of the alleged wrongdoing, which were due to be considered in detail by the court at a speedy trial.

“Lord Hain’s decision to name Sir Philip Green at this juncture is extremely dangerous.  He has effectively made very serious allegations of repeated sexual harassment and racist abuse against Sir Philip without disclosing all of the facts”. 

For someone like Sir Philip, who loves the best things in life, as does Lady Green, becoming plain old Mr and Mrs again would be heartbreaking. Until a notice appears in the London Gazette, Sir Philip can continue to enjoy his ‘Topman’ title.