City giant Linklaters has hit back at MPs for what it described as ‘completely unjustified’ comments made during the inquiry into the collapse of retail chain BHS.
Last month the magic circle firm came under fire in parliament by Frank Field MP, chair of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, over alleged failures to identify that the buyer of BHS had previously been declared bankrupt
Owen Clay, a corporate partner at Linklaters, who appeared at the joint Business Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee hearing last month, advised Arcadia on the sale of BHS to Retail Acquisitions, which is 90% owned by Dominic Chappell.
In a letter to the committee, Andrew Hughes, a partner at Linklaters, described Field’s comments in the hearing as ‘completely unjustified’. He also attacked the Labour MP for comments made in a separate interview.
Hughes said: ‘The statements attributed to Mr Field are, to say the least, inappropriate. In fact we are confident that they are actionable in that they are highly defamatory, untrue and not protected by parliamentary privilege.
‘That said, we have no intention of taking the matter further, other than respectfully requesting the committees disregard the published statements in their consideration of the evidence obtained in the inquiries.’
The letter said the criticisms made by Field in the committee hearing were based on the assumption that Linklaters advised Arcadia that Chappell was a good person to sell to and that the firm had not discovered that Chappell had twice previously been declared bankrupt.
Hughes said there was ‘no proper basis’ for the committees to infer either of these things.
He also commented on Clay’s decision not to answer one of the questions put to him in the hearing due to legal professional privilege. Field said in an interview that the firm was using privilege to ‘cover up’ details of the advice it provided.
The letter said Clay was not entitled to respond to the question, as Arcadia had opted not to waive professional privilege. It also noted that Clay had attended the oral evidence session voluntarily.
Hughes said: ‘Without intending any disrespect whatsoever to the committees, Mr Clay was obliged to comply with our client’s instructions by declining to respond to any question put to him by a committee member which invited the disclosure of privileged information.’