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Darren Topp to give evidence to BHS pension inquiry

BHS chief executive Darren Topp and his predecessor Richard Price are set to give evidence next month as part of a select committee inquiry into the collapsed chain’s pension fund, Drapers has learned.

Topp became chief executive a week after Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green sold BHS to Retail Acquisitions in March last year. He replaced Price, who left to become chief executive at Tesco’s clothing brand F&F.

MPs are preparing for the second round of select committee hearings into BHS’s collapse into administration, which are due to take place next week.

Drapers understands that advisers to the sale will be invited to give evidence on Monday (May 23), including Linklaters, Olswang and Goldman Sachs. The pension trustees will be heard on Wednesday.

Retail Acquisitions owner Dominic Chappell is expected to appear before MPs in advance of Green’s session on June 15. The full list is being prepared.

Industry sources told Drapers the case may lead to more public scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions in future, although it is unlikely to lead to significant legislation change.

“They can make a lot of recommendations but does anything actually happen?” asked one source close to the situation. “One of the issues is that they can’t cut across anything in respect of what the pensions regulator is doing.”

“The pension regulator might get more teeth, but from experience these types of things tend to blow over,” said a financial source.

“Retail is quite disparate so rather than a loss of jobs at Port Talbot, for example, the loss of jobs is generally more spread out around the country which means you don’t have the same kind of sympathy for change.

“In the past it was more about let the buyer beware, but here it is about the seller being careful on who they sell to.”

“I think it will lead to more public scrutiny of deals in future, whether by regulators or the authorities, to ensure that all these things are properly dealt with,” said Neil Bennett, partner at restructuring specialist Leonard Curtis. “It might not necessarily mean changes to legislation.”

Audrey Williams, partner at City law firm Fox Williams, added: “It certainly has the potential for change but the select committees make recommendations and then they have to be put forward as changes to legislation or approaches in policy. I suspect there will be a strong lobby, from the unions for example, but it does depend on the support it gets.”

The inquiry sessions are expected to run until mid-June and select committees typically take four to six weeks to make their recommendations.

Administrators Duff & Phelps were evaluating final bids for the chain today. It is thought frontrunners included: Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct; Matalan founder John Hargreaves and Select Fashion owner Cafer Mahiroglu; and Edinburgh Woollen Mill owner Philip Day.

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