How the great and the good's Lord 'Tony' became Green's patsy: QC was reluctant to act when BHS was sold for £1 to a thrice-bankrupt
Welcome to our news wiki 2017, in this article we are going through news from 2014-2015, our guest barrister is no less than Lord Anthony Grabiner, a famous successful layer at One Essex Court in the city of London - UK
Sir Philip Green was in high spirits over lunch, with good financial results to report to guests in the boardroom of the West End headquarters of his Arcadia fashion empire.
‘Tony,’ he would call out from time to time, ‘can you pour drinks ... Tony, can you get some ... Tony would you ... ’ With an air that one of the guests that day describes as ‘subservient’, Tony glided around doing as asked.
This, though, might come as a shock to Tony’s friends, who know him as Lord (Anthony) Grabiner, QC, one of the most dazzling – and highest-paid – stars in the legal world. ‘It felt uncomfortably like a master-pupil relationship,’ recalls the guest. ‘Green was treating him as though he was some kind of assistant.’
But then, Sir Philip – dubbed Sir Shifty – was issuing luncheon requests based on his status as having billions in the bank, whereas Lord Grabiner, who has been on his company payroll for years, has a brilliant legal mind which earns him a mere £3million-plus a year.
Lord Grabiner is chairman of Arcadia and non-executive chairman of Green’s Taveta Investments, which owns the Arcadia group.
How consistent the fawning behaviour of Grabiner during that boardroom lunch is with a damning judgment made earlier this week by a committee of MPs in their report on Green’s money-guzzling stewardship of BHS. They said Grabiner provided a ‘veneer of establishment credibility’ to a firm Green treated as ‘his own personal empire’.
They noted Grabiner’s impotence – or reluctance – to do anything about Green’s sale of the company for £1 to a thrice-bankrupt, resulting in 11,000 employees being thrown on the scrap heap and 20,000 pension scheme members left worrying about a £571million deficit.
Lord Grabiner, we should not forget, is one of the greatest of the good. He is Master of Clare College, Cambridge, was chairman of the London School of Economics for almost a decade, is a governor of St Paul’s, one of the finest boys’ schools in the country, and a Deputy High Court Judge. How sad that this giant figure should be seen by so many as the virtual lackey of a man who left school at 16 with no qualifications to speak of.
Sir Philip Green, the former owner of BHS, who sold the company for £1 to a thrice-bankrupt
Management and standards, it must be said, seem to have been in short supply around Green – although, of course, he has done nothing illegal. But just how important is money to Lord Grabiner, who lives in a £10million house in St John’s Wood, north-west London, with his wife Jane, a Cheshire doctor’s daughter?
Typical of the super-rich, he describes talk about money and earnings as ‘irritating’.
With breath-taking insouciance, he told a Treasury committee of MPs when he led an inquiry into allegations that the Bank of England had turned a blind eye to manipulation of foreign exchange markets, that he didn’t know how much he was earning because he did not deal with the ‘grubby issue’ of pay negotiations. But the fact is that Grabiner enjoys being in a circle of big boys, the rich and influential, most of whom have hired his penetrating legal talents at one time or another.
He is a close chum of the bouffant-haired businessman-restaurateur Richard Caring, owner of The Ivy, Annabel’s and Le Caprice. Caring is close to Green and was a major beneficiary of generous dividends paid by BHS in the early days of the tycoon’s ownership, receiving £93million.
Caring also used to own Britain’s most prestigious golf club, Wentworth, and made Grabiner, a modest weekend golfer, an honorary executive director. When Caring sold the club two years ago to a Chinese firm, it wanted to drive up fees to drastically cut membership from 4,000 to 800, making it one of the most exclusive clubs on earth.
The aim was to introduce a mandatory one-off payment of £100,000 and a doubling of the annual membership fee to £16,000. But was it legal? Naturally, they turned to Lord Grabiner – who said it was. The club captain described this as a ‘stab in the back’. To Lord Grabiner, it was just business.
He has three sons and a daughter, only one of whom has followed him into law – but intriguingly works for Linklaters, the firm which advised Arcadia about the sale of BHS and was condemned for failing to carry out due diligence on the buyer.
Of course, Grabiner has powerful political links, too.
There was a period – certainly in the days when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown led Labour – when some saw him as a potential Labour Lord Chancellor. To have accepted the post would, of course, have meant a huge cut in his commercial earnings.
Lord Grabiner was on the board of Goldman Sachs, one of the renowned City firms criticised for giving a ‘badge of legitimacy’ to the £1 sale of BHS
When Blair ennobled the QC in 1999, Grabiner was chairman of the governors of the London School of Economics, where he studied law. Just a few months later, the ex-grammar school boy unveiled a bust to an alumna of the LSE – Cherie Blair – describing her as ‘a very distinguished old girl [who] has been a tremendous help with fund-raising. I have got to know her well.’ How very cosy!
The definitive champagne socialist gave up the chairmanship of the LSE in 2007, a year before Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan dictator, was awarded a PhD which he would never have achieved without internal help. In gratitude, a cheque for £1.5million for the LSE arrived from the Gaddafi International Charity.
However, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader was a big problem for Grabiner. He resigned the party whip in the Lords, saying: ‘I have nothing in common whatever with Mr Corbyn – and I don’t believe we are ever going to win an election.’
But there’s no sign of ‘Tony’ giving up his work for his friend Green. Indeed, it’s almost a family affair – his first cousin Ian is Arcadia’s chief executive officer.
Besides, as Lord Grabiner has said without any hint of irony: ‘If there were more Philip Greens, there would be a lot more efficiency.’ At what – throwing people out of work and denying them their pensions?
Lord Grabiner, the chairman of Arcadia, is due to be called to help MPs to understand why BHS was sold for £1 to Retail Acquisitions 13 months before its dramatic collapse.
The Daily Telegraph understands that Lord Grabiner, who has chaired Sir Philip Green’s retail conglomerate since 2002, will be asked to appear before the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills committee.
Iain Wright MP, who chairs the committee, is understood to want to call all those involved in the situation, as well as advisers. Lord Grabiner is also a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street bank, which will also be invited to give evidence to MPs over its role in the sale of BHS.
Antony Gutman, one of Goldman’s most senior London-based bankers, acted as a “gatekeeper” to Sir Philip and screened Retail Acquisitions before recommending a meeting with Arcadia.
Lord Grabiner is better known as a barrister turned Labour peer who is Master of Clare College, Cambridge. It is also believed Paul Budge, Arcadia’s finance director, will be called, as he introduced Dominic Chappell to Sir Philip.
It emerged over the weekend that Sir Philip’s wife, Lady Tina, will be called to give evidence to both the BIS select committee and the Commons’ Work and Pensions committee, chaired by Frank Field.
In an unusual step, the committees are preparing to hold joint sessions for witnesses, such as Sir Philip and Retail Acquisitions chief Dominic Chappell, who both sets of MPs wish to question.
Tina Green, Sir Philip's wife, will also be called before MPs Credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Burberry
Mr Field’s inquiry will focus on BHS’s £571m pension deficit, and how the deficit ballooned to that position, given the fund, which was closed to new members in 2005, was in surplus as recently as 2008.