Sir Philip Green paid a female executive more than £1 million after she accused the retail tycoon of groping her as part of a series of allegations that can finally be disclosed today following a six-month legal battle.
Sir Philip is also alleged to have racially abused a senior black employee, telling him that his “problem” was that he was still “throwing spears in the jungle”.
The black member of staff received around £1 million, while two other female employees were paid hundreds of thousands of pounds each after complaining of Sir Philip’s “inappropriate” behaviour that included “grabbing” one woman by the face and putting another in a “headlock”.
Five complainants each signed a gagging clause – known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) – in return for the pay-offs.
The Daily Telegraph can make public for the first time details of the allegations after the High Court action brought by the billionaire against this newspaper was formally abandoned.
Sir Philip, owner of such high street fashion brands as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burtons, was left with a legal bill of about £3million after being ordered to pay his and most of the Telegraph’s costs.
Sir Philip indicated he would give up the action at the end of last month, just a few days before he was due to have given evidence in the witness box.
But yesterday, despite dropping his legal claim against The Telegraph, he threatened to sue former staff with NDAs if they spoke out against him.
Penny Mordaunt, the Women’s Minister, said it was “clearly unacceptable” that NDAs were being used to hide allegations of “disgusting and illegal” behaviour and the Government would take the “necessary steps” to stop it.
Sir Philip’s lawyers had secured an interim injunction last summer, arguing that the NDAs should also prevent The Telegraph from reporting the existence of the payments and the allegations which led to them.
Yesterday, at a hearing in the High Court, Mr Justice Warby formally lifted the injunction. The senior female executive, who was paid more than £1 million, complained that Sir Philip had called her a “naughty girl” and groped her.
The woman alleged that Sir Philip, who is 66 and married with two children, kissed her face, slapped her bottom and made comments about her weight, that left her and others present feeling “uncomfortable”.
The male executive, who is black, suffered alleged racial harassment that included being stared at by Sir Philip in a meeting. Sir Philip is then said to have barked: “What the —- have you got on your head?”, which according to some people present, appeared to be directed at the man’s dreadlocks.
He also told the man, in front of colleagues: “The problem with you [name removed] is that everyone else is firing guns and you’re still throwing spears in the jungle.”
On another occasion, Sir Philip is accused of asking a Chinese businessman visiting the company’s headquarters three years ago: “What do you think Mr Ching Chong Charlie?”
A second woman received hundreds of thousands of pounds after complaining that the billionaire had sexually harassed her, including touching her face and body. On one occasion, she allegedly warned him “not to come any closer”.
Sources said that the woman complained that Sir Philip had allegedly “squeezed” her cheeks and put his arm around her back.
A third woman was also given a pay-off worth hundreds of thousands of pounds after alleging that Sir Philip had held her in a “headlock” in front of colleagues and sexually harassed her by touching her waist and body.
A fifth employee – a male executive – had complained about aggressive and intimidating behaviour after Sir Philip allegedly smashed his mobile phone after reprimanding him for not keeping him sufficiently informed.
In the aftermath of the judgment, Sir Philip issued a statement warning former staff with NDAs that he would take them to court if they tried to go public.
In an astonishing threat made with the backing of the board of Arcadia Group, Sir Philip said: “The Telegraph and its owners must now decide whether to do the decent thing and respect the NDAs.
If not they will expose their sources to potential further legal actions and significant losses. Their fate is now in the Telegraph’s hands.”
The Telegraph has released recordings of Sir Philip’s aggressive phone calls to reporters at this newspaper after he was first questioned about the NDAs in the summer.
In a series of increasingly aggressive and expletive-ridden calls, Sir Philip said that newspaper executives should “grow some balls”, said he would take “pleasure” in personally bankrupting the editor and warned reporters that he did not want “an ugly punch-up”.The Telegraph’s phone calls to Sir Philip Greenh
Sir Philip had applied for the injunction in July when The Telegraph first approached him for comment but was eventually named in October in the House of Lords by Lord Hain, the former Cabinet minister, using parliamentary privilege.
Lord Hain yesterday urged the Prime Minister to bring in new laws to prevent non-disclosure agreements from covering up serious allegations. “We have to change the system. It’s broken,” said the Labour peer, adding: “This is a very serious abuse of the non-disclosure agreement law. What we have here is a twisting of the law in order to silence people who have allegedly been mistreated in an appalling way.”
Writing in The Telegraph today, Maria Miller, the Tory chairman of the women and equalities select committee and former culture secretary, says: “Parliament has debated long and hard to put in place some of the best laws in the world to protect people from discrimination and bullying by unscrupulous employers. Yet, the evidence is that those laws are being flouted and unlawful behaviour covered up.
“The Philip Green case shows how broken the current system is when it comes to NDAs, protecting the powerful and silencing victims.
“Employers and lawyers need to hear a strong message from government that this has to change.”
Jess Phillips, a Labour MP on the committee, said: “This is about people being groped at work. These are allegations of sexual assaults. To me this passes the test of criminal activity.
“If NDAs can be used to silence allegations of criminal activity then the message it sends is that your boss can grope you at work and get away with it. The current law is not protecting ordinary people and so therefore [there] needs to be a fundamental review.”
Peter Kyle, a Labour MP on the business select committee, said: “My initial reaction when I hear what these people have allegedly been put through is akin to being imprisoned in the workplace.
“I don’t think that a man like this should be let loose to roam freely in a zoo let alone in a modern 21st century British workplace.”
In a statement, Chris Evans, the editor of The Telegraph, said: “We are delighted the injunction has been lifted but our campaign goes on. And now, we look to the Government to act.
“In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein affair, we became aware that gagging orders called NDAs were being used to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct and racial abuse in the workplace. And that led to our investigation into Sir Philip Green and Arcadia. We maintain there is a clear public interest in telling people whether a prospective employer has been accused of sexual misconduct and racial abuse.
“The Prime Minister has already indicated that she is uneasy with the way in which NDAs have been used. We ask her now to do something about it.”The life and career of Sir Philip Greenh
The disclosures will reignite calls for Sir Philip, already damaged by the BHS scandal, to be stripped of the knighthood given to him by Tony Blair for services to the retail industry.
The Telegraph’s lawyers argued in court that “Sir Philip’s ‘misconduct’… was sufficiently serious to engage the public interest including as it does unwanted contact of a sexual nature; general sexual harassment; racist language; and intimidation and bullying; many amounting to criminal offences, and all having serious consequences for employees in particular for their health and well-being”.
Sir Philip has always maintained that his actions amounted to “banter” and that none of his behaviour was unlawful.
The legal battle began in the summer when reporters contacted the businessman over the NDAs.
A trial was listed for the beginning of February, but shortly after Sir Philip’s lawyers were due to serve witness statements, the billionaire announced that he was dropping the case.
Mr Justice Warby formally lifted the injunction yesterday, and warned Sir Philip that any attempt to pursue his alleged victims may be viewed by a court as an “abuse of process”.
Mr Justice Warby also said that the conduct of Sir Philip and Arcadia, the company that runs his stores, in continuing to pursue the legal action over the past few months had been “well outside the norm”.
Legal experts believe the way in which Sir Philip has pursued the case – and the vast sums of money involved – have demonstrated how the English courts can effectively be used to silence “MeToo” victims in this country. The only person who has felt able to speak out over the Topshop owner’s alleged conduct has been an American-based employee.